|City Attorney's Office Implodes
– And More
October 5, 2004
Interim City Attorney Everett Jenkins has apparently reassigned his most productive assistant city attorney shortly after she was publicly recognized in a West County Times article for her exceptional work in code enforcement and abatement.
Jenkins notified the City Council via a “confidential” memo on Saturday that he was retaining yet another contract attorney, Trisha Aljoe, allegedly to address the backlog of cases. What he didn’t tell the City Council was that, because of a personal animosity toward Ms. Quintero, he planned to use that new attorney to supplant Ms. Quintero in the abatement and code enforcement work she has been successfully handling for many months.
What is even more puzzling is that the memo to the City Council was marked “confidential.” There is no protection under the Brown Act for confidentiality of a City contract. Jenkins has a disturbing tendency to overuse the “confidential” stamp in many of his communications with the City Council – part of his long obsession with secrecy that has cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.
It also appears that the hiring of Ms. Aljoe was a violation of the City Charter (see below) because it exceeded the contract authority of staff. According to the article in the West County Times that follows this E-FORUM, “On Monday, Jenkins said the council must approve her hiring and declined further comment on Aljoe or Quintero.” It should be noted that the hiring of Ms. Aljoe is not on the City Council agenda, so it would be improper for Jenkins to even bring it up, much less seek City Council approval.
At a billing rate of $105/hour, it appears Ms. Aljoe will exceed the $1,000 Charter limitation in less than two days. The Charter gives the city manager a $10,000 limitation, but that would cover only 95 hours, and there is no documentation that the city manager approved.
The Charter says:
“(Amended at election May 11, 1965, and November 6, 1984) No ordinance shall be passed, no officer appointed or removed, no contract shall be awarded and no obligation incurred by the City in excess of one thousand dollars without the affirmative vote of at least five members of the Council provided that, the Council may by ordinance authorize the City Manager to enter into contracts and incur obligations on behalf of the City not in excess of ten thousand dollars.”
Somehow knitted into the turmoil in the City Attorney’s Office is the proposed censure resolution, which is attached as a PDF file. The censure resolution, of which no individual had the courage to identify themselves as the author (also contrary to City Council procedure), is based an alleged violation of the “Councilmember’s Code of Conduct,” adopted by the City Council on January 7, 2003. The 5-2-2 vote was hardly an overwhelming endorsement. Butt and Rogers voted “no,” and Bates and Griffin abstained. I cannot speak for the others, but my sense was that the Code of Conduct was construed principally as an effort by the mayor to consolidate her power to control debate and to discourage criticism. I believe that is why nearly half the Council failed to support it.
The “Code of Conduct” is not in the City Charter, and it was not even adopted as a resolution. It is not an ordinance and has no force of law.
“I solemnly pledge to conduct all City matters fairly, responsibly and impartially; to carry out the business of the City in an orderly and efficient manner; to treat my colleagues, citizens, and City staff with dignity and respect; through debate, discussion, and dialogue instill public confidence and integrity in the process of City government; and to serve the citizens of Richmond to the best of my ability.”
The is no provision or precedent for a “censure” in the Charter, the Richmond Municipal Code, or any other document or action taken by the City Council in the last 100 years. No Council member in the history if Richmond has been “censured.” This is an unprecedented action.
The TOM BUTT E-FORUM is not City business and is not subject to a Code of Conduct, even if such a code were legitimate. It is an electronic newsletter sent by Tom Butt to individuals who consent to its transmission. It is not produced or distributed during or as a part of any official City activity or using any City-owned resources. No one is forced to read it. Like any journalistic endeavor, it is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
There is no conceivable way that the “Code of Conduct” could apply to opinions expressed by a Council member outside of a City Council meeting or other official activity. Further, the proposed resolution lists no specifics about “erroneous” information. The fact is that this censure move is a chilling effort to further damage First Amendment rights in Richmond and conceal from the public the true nature of Richmond City government.
Richmond councilman hit with censure vote
RICHMOND - A monthslong feud in the City Attorney's Office resulted Monday in the apparent removal of an attorney from a blight-abatement program she helped build into a success.
Further, the City Council will vote tonight on a resolution to censure Councilman Tom Butt for violating the council's code of conduct by publishing an e-mail "containing information which was erroneous and disrespectful" about involved city staffers.
"I can't comment on that. I would direct you to the council agenda," said acting City Attorney Everett Jenkins.
Last Wednesday, Butt used his popular electronic newsletter to laud the work of assistant city attorney Adriana Quintero and blast Jenkins and assistant city attorney Bruce Soublet, making the internal disagreement public.
In the e-mail, Butt accused Jenkins of retaliating against him for pushing the council to search for a permanent city attorney. Jenkins recently informed Butt he would garnishee his council wages to repay a nine-year-old, $3,991 legal debt to the city.
"The timing was a huge coincidence. ... Why did they wait nine years, and why am I the only one?" said Butt, who lost a public records suit against the city in 1994, resulting in the judgment.
In the e-mail, Butt complained about his treatment by the city attorney's office; he accused the department of incompetence and some staff members of buying expensive lunches on city credit cards.
"Ironically, Quintero, who has a work ethic that contrasts sharply with that of Jenkins and Soublet, is being harassed by Jenkins for working too hard and making the rest of the office look bad," Butt wrote.
"She is the only attorney in the office who cares enough to get out of bed to provide the legal backup for a midnight drug bust, and she is actually making real money for the city," Butt added in the posting.
City e-mails obtained by the Times indicated that Quintero and Jenkins have been at odds on a variety of work-related issues for several months.
On Monday, Jenkins introduced newly hired attorney Trisha Aljoe to acting Police Chief Charles Bennett as the police department's new liaison with Jenkins' office for code enforcement and blight abatement.
Quintero said she could not comment.
"(Quintero has) done nothing but good for us. She's the best attorney we've had to date for code enforcement or abatement," Bennett said. "My concern is bringing someone else back up to speed."
In a memo dated Friday, marked "confidential" and including the council packets for tonight's meeting, Jenkins said Aljoe was needed to address a work backlog, but he did not specify a particular assignment.
On Monday, Jenkins said the council must approve her hiring and declined further comment on Aljoe or Quintero.
Aljoe, who was working Monday at the city attorney's office, declined to take a call from the Times.
"It's a personnel issue in the city attorney's office. Everett is her supervisor," Mayor Irma Anderson said, referring to Quintero. "Everett's job is to supervise Adriana. That's not my job."
Anderson added that she was concerned that Butt's e-mailed comments exposed the city to legal liability and "denigrated" the council member's code of conduct that she says requires council members not to publicly chastise city staff members.
"He was asked for an apology, and he refused," Anderson said. "He knows how (the censure resolution) got on the agenda."
Anderson would not comment on which council member placed the item on tonight's agenda. In practice with council custom, that member is not identified.
"Frankly, I look on it as a badge of honor," Butt said of the proposed censure. "This idea that somehow you can't criticize city employees - I never bought into that. I think that if somebody's not doing their job, it's not only our right but our duty to bring it out in public."