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Sounding Board: City Attorney Role

Daily Transcript Question: What do you believe is the legally correct and proper role for a city attorney in the affairs of a city?

For a smaller city without a directly elected city attorney, the answer is quite simply that the city attorney:

1) is the attorney for the City Council.

2) ensures that the elected officials do not do anything illegal.

3) interprets and assists with the implementation of city, state and federal laws.

4) ensures that the elected officials follow the Brown (open

government) Act.

5) assists the city staff with legal interpretations.

6) represents the city or manages the representation of the city in

any court or legal proceedings.

For a smaller city, the city attorney is appointed by the City Council and reports to the City Council.

-- David S. Druker

City Council member, Del Mar

I believe the legally correct and proper role for a city attorney is to be an advisor and counselor to the municipal corporation, which is the majority of the council in most cases.

-- Ann J. Kulchin

Carlsbad City Council Member

The debate concerning whether a city attorney serves the "city" as the "client," the members of the council as clients or both has been going on for some time and is the focus of disputes between the city attorney of San Diego and members of the City Council.

With some exceptions, the city -- not its officials or employees, is the client of the city attorney. However, the Government Code and many city charters provide that "The city attorney shall advise the city officials in all legal matters pertaining to city business." This obligation can create a tension between the city attorney's obligation to the city and the city official's expectation of confidentiality with respect to the advice sought.

What if the city attorney discovers some illegal activity -- is that information protected by the attorney-client privilege? I think not, however, to the extent there is a privilege, it is held by the full City Council, not the individual member, and can be waived by the council.

This begs the question of whether or not the city attorney has an independent duty to disclose criminal violations by a public official.

In my judgment the city attorney should make it clear that his/her first responsibility is to protect the city's interests and no expectation of confidentiality can be enjoyed by the public official seeking advice.

-- Carl Hilliard

Del Mar City Council Member

The city attorney is hired versus elected, in the city of Poway.

I believe the role of the city attorney is to support and protect the interests of the City Council and city, as well as give advice and answer questions on any matters pertaining to the Poway Municipal Code, or issues that may be litigated.

Betty Rexford

Councilmember, city of Poway

An elected city attorney represents the residents of the community who elected him or her.

Their role and responsibility is to provide the best legal advice and counsel on all matters pertaining to the welfare of his/her constituents and city.

The role of a city attorney hired by the city council is to provide them, as policy makers, the best legal advise and counsel so that their constitutes and community benefit from that expertise.

Art Madrid

Mayor, city of La Mesa

Complete Coverage: Sounding Board

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The Daily Transcript introduces Sounding Board, a regular opinion page feature focusing on current issues. Send your responses to soundingboard@sddt.com.

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