The Partisan: Carmel City Council is told that potentially zooming city attorney costs are really just a guess

OPINION |

By Royal Calkins

Back when I actually made my living as a reporter, I saved my best work-avoidance excuses for days when the city council was being briefed on the annual budget. Finally, in semi-retirement, I encountered a rare budget briefing worth staying awake for.

It happened Tuesday night in Carmel. There were no fireworks or fisticuffs, nothing like that. What made it interesting was a proposal from City Councilwoman Carolyn Hardy to increase the City Attorney’s Office annual budget from $460,000 to $760,000.  That, of course, is the office headed by City Attorney Glen Mozingo, who got the job at least partly on the basis of a resumé that is, well, let’s just call it creative for now.

But first, back to the budget.

The increase proposed by Hardy amounts to 65 percent, but Mozingo told the council not to pay much attention to the numbers because there is really no way to accurately predict the city’s legal expenses. He cited reasons such as increasing litigiousness, rising costs of everything and the city’s reputation as being a soft touch.

Mozingo told the council Tuesday night that the city spent nearly $850,000 on legal services in fiscal year 2014-15 and $619,000 the following year, both more than the amount budgeted for this year. In fact, he said he expects this year’s total to go over budget by more than $150,000. He didn’t say why.

Bobby Richards and other council members said they felt the proposed increase seems high but indicated they’d likely save their questions for later in the budget process. Perhaps by then they will have been provided with enough information to put some weight behind their questions

Mozingo didn’t say, and they didn’t ask, why the city attorney budget was so high in 2014-15 and he didn’t provide any examples of significant legal issues on the municipal horizon.

The proposed budget presented to the council was remarkably short on detail. Since being named as city attorney last year, Mozingo has added a deputy city attorney and an assistant city attorney who, like him, work under contract rather than as city employees. However, Mozingo’s subordinates are part-time subcontractors and the council wasn’t told how many hours they will put in or their hourly rates.

Under his own master contract, Mozingo is paid $13,000 a month for half-time work plus $275 an hour for legal work beyond the routine. His contract defines that as, among other things, writing or reading complicated briefs or going to court.

I asked the city budget director to provide some of the missing details on Wednesday but she wasn’t able to get back to me by day’s end. The proposed budget presented to the council says the current proposed budget figure of $460,000, without Hardy’s proposed addition, includes projected payments to Mozingo and his aides plus $100,000 for outside counsel.

As if the suggested 65 percent increase didn’t make things interesting enough, keep in  mind the back story about Mozingo, how he came to be hired, and his sketchy résumé.

Mozingo, 71, who is retired from a full-time legal practice in Southern California, has been active with Carmel boards and commissions for several years. His wife, Heidi Burch, is a former assistant city administrator who, like him, loudly resigned during the Jason Burnett administration. They accused the Burnett administration of heavy-handed tactics to remove deadwood that had built up in City Hall over the years.

Mozingo then became highly active in the successful mayoral campaign of Steve Dallas, prompting this writer early on to correctly predict that Mozingo would go on to replace longtime City Attorney Don Freeman.

Unfortunately for those who were hoping the civic waters would be calmed by his victory, Dallas late last year became the subject of a protracted investigation into issues of sexual harassment and the like. Though Dallas survived with only a reprimand from his council colleagues, accusations that Mozingo orchestrated a favorable outcome opened the attorney up to the type of scrutiny that he apparently avoided when he was initially hired.

The hiring process was headed by Councilwoman Hardy, who said she also put significant time into vetting Mozingo. From most appearances, she should have put more time into it.

Voices has produced a couple of articles questioning the accuracy of Mozingo’s resume’, including the significance of some of the awards he has claimed, his education, his claimed membership in the British bar, his purported role as “special counsel” to former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, and other details. Here’s the first article, and the second.

New questions arose this week about another entry on his resume, this one about work performed for the city of San Diego while Pete Wilson was mayor in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mozingo said it involved legal work as part of the most ambitious redevelopment project in city history, Horton Plaza.

Mozingo, who passed the Bar in 1979, wrote that he was “Appointed counsel by Mayor Pete Wilson, City of San Diego, – Contract negotiations for eminent domain and construction agreements (Horton Plaza Redevelopment Project.)  This assignment was given after several lawsuits had been filed regarding the design and construction of parking lot structures that were deemed to be unsafe. The need for the inverse condemnation action was brought about by the necessity to acquire adjacent privately owned property.”

That could be entirely accurate. Throughout the application, Mozingo provides few dates or other information that could aid in corroboration. But a search of the San Diego Union-Tribune clippings from that era turned up no sign of Mozingo, and Wilson’s long-time chief deputy, Bob White, said this week that he had checked with his former boss, who went on to become a senator and governor.

“Neither Pete Wilson nor I know Glen Mozingo,” said White, who was Wilson’s chief of staff at each level of government. White is now chairman of California Strategies, one of the state’s largest and most successful lobbyist organizations.

Mozingo, whose legal career focused on estate planning and business incorporation, also wrote that he had designed and implemented San Diego’s traffic watch program. He wrote that he had handled “hundreds of trials,” including 138 jury trials and had won all but four. Other highly experienced lawyers said it would be difficult if not impossible for a lawyer to compile such a record while also specializing in estate planning and business incorporation.

Mozingo has declined to respond to repeated questions on the subject and even announced at a City Hall news conference weeks ago that he had no plans to address the issues chronicled by Voices. In recent days, though, he has told city officials that he plans to take the issue up with the council in closed session.

Mayor Dallas said late Wednesday that he wasn’t aware of that plan, however. He said he wasn’t prepared to comment on why Mozingo has declined to make any public statements about his background or why the council has shied away from the issue.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz and Monterey. For the past couple of years, he has produced a local news and commentary blog, the Monterey Bay Partisan. He can be reached at calkinsroyal@gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “The Partisan: Carmel City Council is told that potentially zooming city attorney costs are really just a guess

  1. You think this is outrageous check into the City Attorney in Pacific Grove and his annual pay. It is appx. $1,000 a day or over $300,000 a year. That’s just his retainer.

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