How to bring harmony to Carmel City Hall


By Bill Burleigh

I was honored to be Carmel’s lawyer during the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the eight years I was there, we never had a scandal, or chaos. Not even a kerfuffle or hissy fit.  And we had lots of big issues, like expanding zoning regulations, buying the school for Sunset, and Flanders Mansion. We were only sued once, I think, over a legal issue. I’ll tell you how we lived frugally and in harmony.

RELATED: Carmel proves not all legal advice is good

Here’s my message to the City Council:

It is my perception, from talking to friends and following the media, that Carmel city has been in freefall for several years.

First, lighten up. You are in charge of the most wonderful little town in the nation. The key word is “little.” You are only about 5,000 bodies. Same as in the ‘60s. I wrote a letter to the editor of The Pine Cone recently arguing that Carmel did not need three city attorneys. It was well received, and one guy called me and said that Carmel has got a case of Big Cityitis. Agreed.

All your violations of law are misdemeanors, not felonies. You don’t need investigators, outside lawyers or civil lawsuits.

Here’s what we did: I would personally contact the miscreant and tell him to do what he has to do, or quit doing what he was doing, or I would charge him with a crime. That took care of about 90 percent of violations. For the few who fought, I would file a misdemeanor citation and ask the judge to fine him $1,000 but suspend it for three years on condition of no similar violations.  That took care of almost all of them.

I have to tell you about one defeat I suffered, which all lawyers would agree is the worst defeat possible. One guy refused to get a permit for his sign, and pleaded not guilty. At trial he did not show up or have a lawyer. I presented my evidence and submitted it to the judge, a visitor from Fresno. He said, “That is a stupid ordinance. I find the defendant not guilty.” I lost to an empty chair!

Another important change you need: adopt maximum transparency. Our attitude: when someone wanted a document, all he had to do is identify it and pay for cost of copying. (Unless, of course, it was legally privileged, like an employee’s health matter.) We were proud of what we did and liked to show off.

Someone has been building pyramids in City Hall. You have way too many employees. We had four officers: city administrator, treasurer, clerk and part-time city attorney. You have 10!  What in the world do they do?

You should cut a lot of positions by not filling the position when they leave. We had four departments:  Police, Planning, Fire and Streets. Each had one head. Compare the number of employees that you had then and have now.  Again, cut by attrition.

Here’s my message to the city attorneys: Resign. Your honor will never recover from that devastating sworn declaration by Royal Calkins in the lawsuit. (If you haven’t read it, it’s here.) You defrauded the council. While you’re leaving, take the council members who voted for you with you.

Finally, here’s my message to Carmel voters: Vote for people who love Carmel, have been here for many years, have common sense, and are NOT politicians. And get a city attorney with the same qualifications and perhaps has a sense of humor, is curious, enjoys the work and charges reasonably.

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About Bill Burleigh

Burleigh, founder of the Big Sur International Marathon, is a retired judge.