The City of Redondo Beach’s Charter Review Advisory Committee has made the recommendation to turn the elected City Attorney position into one appointed by the City Council and Mayor. I think this is a bad idea. So have the residents of Redondo Beach in the past when this has come up. Five times. Here are my thoughts on the issue.
This is a solution in search of a problem. An elected city attorney has the crucial latitude to make independent and unbiased legal decisions without concerns they will get fired by the mayor or council members who appointed them. The citizens of Redondo Beach deserve someone who will fearlessly protect the interests of the people of Redondo Beach and not just carry out the wishes of the City Council and manager.
When it comes to public attorneys like a city attorney, the identity of the client in the public sector varies with the context. The client can be the council, a member of the council, city employees being sued over how they did their job, or the public in general. An elected city attorney, rather than an appointed city attorney, is more likely to provide good legal advice in the context of the many hats the city attorney must wear.
Here are key reasons to maintain this system:
- Accountability: The current system directly ties the city attorney’s role to the electorate, ensuring accountability to residents. This connection is fundamental to democratic governance, allowing citizens to choose their city attorney and have a say in this important position.
- Independence: An elected city attorney is more independent, less vulnerable to political pressure, and more likely to provide impartial legal advice. Appointed city attorneys could be seen as influenced by the city council or mayor, potentially compromising their independence.
- Checks and Balances: The separation of powers are essential in democratic governance. An elected city attorney acts as a check on the city council and mayor by offering independent legal counsel and potentially challenging questionable decisions. Appointing the city attorney could weaken this system.
- Expertise and Qualifications: Elected city attorneys must demonstrate their qualifications and expertise to gain public trust. This results in a higher level of scrutiny and more competent candidates. Appointed city attorneys might not be held to the same standards, potentially leading to less qualified individuals in the role.
- Flexibility: Elected city attorneys have the flexibility to take positions that may not align with the city council or mayor when it’s in the city’s best interest. Appointed city attorneys might feel pressure to conform to their appointing authority’s views, limiting their ability to act in the city’s best interests.
Maintaining an elected city attorney in Redondo Beach preserves democratic accountability, independence, checks and balances, and ensures qualified individuals hold this crucial legal role. Changing to an appointed position may compromise these principles and weaken the city’s governance structure.
Redondo Beach should retain its charter with the city attorney as an elected position.
want to hear me instead? Here’s the link to the meeting.