An interim city attorney well-versed with Solvang and municipal law has been hired to replace Chip Wullbrandt.
During a special meeting Monday night, after meeting first in closed session and then in open session, the City Council accepted the resignation of Wullbrandt, with the Santa Barbara-based firm of Price, Postel & Parma.
Wullbrandt submitted his resignation last week after Mayor Charlie Uhrig scheduled the special meeting to discuss the city attorney position.
On Monday night, the council unanimously agreed to rehire Dave Fleishman, now with the firm of Richards, Watson & Gershon, as Solvang’s interim city attorney.
Unlike Wullbrandt, Fleishman has two decades of experience as a city attorney.
He also brings historical knowledge of recent Solvang issues for a council whose most-veteran member began serving on the panel two years ago and a city manager whose stint with the city began in April 2019 as the administrative services director.
The contract for interim city attorney calls for Fleishman to be paid $225 per hour for up to 50 hours of service each month. Any additional time would cost $250 per hour, and litigation would run at $295 an hour.
The basic monthly rate would run at $11,250, or roughly one-half of what Wullbrandt charged in his lowest month.
“Based on my prior experience with the city, I can’t think of too many months where we exceeded a 50-hour level, so I would anticipate that the city would experience some significant cost savings almost immediately in the legal services budget line,” Fleishman said.
He previously served Solvang along with this legal partner, Roy Hanley, who has since retired.
Fleishman currently serves as the city attorney for Pismo Beach. He previously represented the Guadalupe and Pacific Grove in addition to Solvang.
Fleishman resigned as city attorney in May 2019 after he and his retired partner filled the role for 21 years.
“Notwithstanding the nearly universally positive performance evaluation session at last night’s council meeting, it is clear to me on a number of levels that this is the right course of action for me and my law partner,” Fleishman said in his resignation letter then. “The City Council majority is entitled to and should be served by a city attorney whose ethical standards and commitment to the rule of law more closely match their own.”
The prior City Council promptly fired him before his final date.
They hired Wullbrandt, a Santa Ynez Valley resident who touted the fact he would not charge for travel.
Yet, Wullbrandt’s hourly rate exceeded others who had sought the job and his invoices caused skyrocketing legal costs even after the city laid off eight employees because of COVID-19-related closures on the city’s tourism industry.
Wullbrandt, as a partner, charged $335 per hour, making his rate above others who submitted proposals and those currently working for nearby cities.
For his first full month of service in July 2019, he submitted a bill for $74,837, more than half the $135,500 budgeted for the entire year for city attorney services in Solvang. He also received $6,600 for June 2019.
Wullbrandt’s invoices exceeded $550,000 for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
From July 2020 through November 2020, Wullbrandt has submitted invoices seeking payment amounting to about $160,000.
In total, the City of Solvang paid more than $715,000 to Wullbrandt and his firm.
“At PP&P, we pride ourselves on doing a thorough and professional job for our clients. We are not cut-rate or cheap, but we are efficient and effective,” Wullbrandt told Noozhawk.
During Wullbrandt’s tenure, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office chastised the city for violating the Ralph M. Brown (Open Meetings) Act, leading the panel to rescind prior illegal action as the city attorney dismissed the concerns. The same letter also chided council members for seeking the names of those who submitted allegations about Brown Act violations.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.