Morro Bay City Council starts hunt for a temporary city attorney

Council is expected to cancel City Attorney Robert Schultz's contract Thursday

dsneed@thetribunenews.comOctober 29, 2013 

City Attorney Robert Schultz listens to public comment during the Morro Bay City Council's special meeting Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at the Veterans Memorial Building.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

In the latest in a series of contentious meetings, the Morro Bay City Council voted Tuesday to begin the process of hiring a short-term interim city attorney to replace Robert Schultz, who is being terminated.

The council directed Susan Slayton, the city’s administrative services director, to shop around for a law firm to handle the city’s legal affairs until an interim city attorney can be hired.

Finding an interim city attorney involves a process that is likely to take until the end of the year.

To come up with potential candidates to step in immediately for the short term, Slayton will contact cities in the county such as Grover Beach that do not have a fulltime city attorney but instead hire outside law firms to represent them.

On Thursday, the council is scheduled to meet in a special closed session to discuss Schultz’s employment and possibly terminate his contract, said Mayor Jamie Irons.

Hiring a short-term attorney until an interim attorney is found is expected to cost the city between $20,000 and $25,000, Slayton said. The money could come from a variety of sources including reserves and a risk management fund.

The vote to hire the temporary lawyer was 3-2 with Irons and council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson voting in favor, while council members George Leage and Nancy Johnson voted against.

Such split votes as well as angry exchanges between Irons and Nancy Johnson have become common since Irons announced at the beginning of September his intention to fire or discipline for unspecified reasons Schultz and also City Manager Andrea Lueker.

Nancy Johnson described the whole process firing Schultz as “illegal, unethical and unprofessional.”

The three in the majority said that hiring a short-term temporary attorney was necessary in order to ensure the city has continuous legal representation.

“The council’s priority is to protect the city of Morro Bay,” Christine Johnson said.

Leage and Nancy Johnson said a temporary attorney is unnecessary because Schultz could do the job until a permanent replacement for him is found. Leage also said the city has become the laughingstock of the county because, before the process is complete, the city will have employed five different attorneys.

The five would be Schultz; special counsel Steven Simas, who is advising the council on its personnel dealings with Schultz and Lueker; a short-term interim attorney; a long-term interim attorney and Schultz’s permanent replacement.

“How many lawyers are we going to have?” Leage asked.

Christine Johnson admitted the process “has taken on a bit of the absurd” but she, Irons and Smukler repeated their assertion that the process is necessary to protect the interests of the city.

“This is a very critical situation that does not happen very often,” Smukler said.

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