The Partisan: Carmel council moves ahead on attorney contract despite strong cautions

OPINION | 

By Royal Calkins

The Carmel City Council meeting Monday was not as acrimonious as several sessions four years ago when an employee uprising led to the removal of a city manager and the departure of a once-promising mayor. But the disconnect between the current council and many of those addressing it was nearly as striking.

The hot topic was a five-year extension of the council’s contract with City Attorney Glen Mozingo, its provision for automatic annual raises and what many of the speakers saw as the council’s underhanded attempt to get it approved without discussion.

The contract raises the monthly retainer from $13,000 to $30,000, largely to accommodate work performed by two deputy city attorneys Mozingo brought on board after he was hired 14 months ago.

Several members of the audience, including two former mayors, urged the council to hold off on approving the document until the public had more time to study the fine print. Several also recommended that instead of contracting with Mozingo and his deputies the city consider hiring one full-time lawyer.

Several speakers criticized the council for putting the contract on the consent agenda, which generally is reserved for ministerial items such as approval of minutes and routine bills.  Councilman Bobby Richards asked that it be switched to the regular agenda, a notion that was seconded by several others from the audience.

With the exception of Richards, who voted against the contract, the council responded defensively to the various criticisms. Councilwoman Carrie Theis seemed to be near tears at times.

She and others on the council argued that the arrangement saves the city money because it commits Mozingo and his aides to a base rate of $195 an hour, plus cost-of-living raises, for five years and a relatively reasonable fee of $275 an hour for additional or challenging work. Mayor Steve Dallas mentioned that local land-use attorney Tony Lombardo’s fee will soon top $700 an hour.

“I’m having a hard time understanding all the negativity here,” said Theis, who joined three of her colleagues in heaping praise on Mozingo for his first-year accomplishments.

Dallas ended the meeting with a lecture aimed at both the public and previous officeholders. He complained that his pay for serving as mayor works out to pennies an hour yet the public feels free to criticize him.

“I get very upset when people say I’m not transparent,” said Dallas, who campaigned on a transparency platform complete with literature printed on transparent plastic.

Staring into the audience, he went on, “We’re taking on the hard issues that other councils didn’t. … If you can’t think positive, please don’t think.”

Several speakers urged the council to hold off on a new contract until settlement of a public records lawsuit filed against the city by this writer on behalf of Voices of Monterey Bay and a group known as Transparency in Government.

After Voices published several articles challenging key portions of Mozingo’s resumé, the council held a closed door meeting with him in which he apparently answered some of the questions raised in his application and showed them letters or documents of some sort. Among several other things, Voices has reported that Mozingo falsely claimed to have never been sued for malpractice, falsely claimed to have received the Congressional Gold Medal and inaccurately described legal work he had performed for various cities.

Voices and other media outlets submitted public records act requests for the information he shared at the executive session but the requests were denied on grounds that the council hadn’t kept copies. That view ignores the obvious fact that the city maintains control of the items because Mozingo is an agent of the city.

Though it was not possible for Mozingo to show the council that he had received the Congressional Gold Medal or that he had never been sued for malpractice, Councilwoman Theis declared after the meeting that they had deemed his resumé to be “100 percent accurate.”

A hearing on the legal action is scheduled for Sept. 7.

Businessman Richard Kreitman, a one-time council candidate, was among those urging the council to wait until the litigation is complete.

“So we might be in a situation where Mr. Mozingo is sitting in on this lawsuit, legal proceeding, getting $275 an hour as an extraordinary expense as we as a city try to defend an indefensible rejection of a public records act request,” said Kreitman.

Kreitman said the lawyer for Voices, Neil Shapiro, is one of the best in the region.

“He’s not going to lose. How much is the city willing to spend?”

In the city’s initial court filing, Mozingo assistant Gerard Rose mostly sidestepped the legal and factual issues and instead characterized this writer as a liar on a crusade to bring Mozingo down. A couple of speakers took issue with the attack.

Former mayors Ken White and Sue McCloud was joined by former Councilwoman Barbara Livingston in urging the council to hold off on a decision. Livingston said her group, the Carmel Residents Association, had held a special board meeting on the subject earlier in the day. McCloud said she had received a surprising number of calls since the agenda was posted on Friday. She mentioned that KSBW-TV had editorialized in support of the Voices lawsuit last week.

“We really should step back on this one,” said McCloud, who has been a Mozingo supporter.

Retired dentist Hugo Ferlito said it appeared the council was trying to sneak one past the public.

“How in the world was this a consent item?” he asked.

A couple speakers noted that several others had wanted to speak against the contract approval but had to leave before the item was heard. After it was pulled from the consent agenda, Dallas placed it at the end of the regular agenda, creating a long wait.

One resident, Georgina Armstrong, noted that no one had risen from the audience to support the contract.

Some of the speakers objected to the provision that the city could end the contract but only by a supermajority vote, 4-1 instead of the standard 3-2 margin needed to approve most measures. Some said they felt the council would never be able to break ties to Mozingo.

The strongest defender of the contract was Councilwoman Carolyn Hardy, who was on the committee that originally recommended Mozingo’s hiring. She later negotiated his first contract and took responsibility for checking his background. She has not publicly explained why she didn’t spot the various errors and overstatements. She also was involved in negotiating the new contract.

“I’m not troubled by the content of this contract,” she said, but she added that she is troubled by the criticism.

“The public wants to throw every possible roadblock in the way of doing a good job,” said Hardy.

Hardy added that the public seems to be under the misimpression that the city attorney works for the public. He works for the council, she said. She added that the public needed to separate the issues of the contract and the public records lawsuit.

“They have no relation one to the other,” said Hardy, who criticized KSBW for seemingly working in concert with Voices.

Richards said Mozingo has performed admirably for the city but he was voting against the contract because he feels it is inefficient. He said he would be more effective to hire one full-time lawyer.

Others on the council said that even if the dollar amounts might be comparable on the surface, the city would have to pay a premium of at least 30 percent to cover pension costs and other benefits.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Barbara Livingston was a former mayor of Carmel. She was on the council, but was not the mayor.

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Royal Calkins

About Royal Calkins

Contributing writer Royal Calkins has worked for newspapers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and Fresno. 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.

One thought on “The Partisan: Carmel council moves ahead on attorney contract despite strong cautions

  1. Royal: Please provide us readers with time and courtroom number for Sept. 7 as you know this information. Thanks.

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