Saturday, January 26, 2013

Is There a Conflict of Interest in the RFP Process for Sierra Madre's City Attorney?

Justice?
"If two or more Councilmembers call Josh to get a reference for Teresa Highsmith, is that a Brown Act violation?" - Reader comment posted earlier this morning.

Yesterday I had posted about the current City Council efforts to appraise the value of Colantuono & Levin as the purveyor of City Attorney services for this small but bustling burgh. In particular the RFP process currently under way to see if perhaps we can't find a law firm that isn't quite so darn pricey. Nearly 40 firms and individual attorneys answered the call for our pricing request, a list that has now been somehow whittled down to a mere two. Colantuono & Levin being one of the lucky pair. A development that I personally find to be somewhat fishy, but maybe that is just me. I have a suspicious nature.

After having noted yesterday that the fix did appear to be in on this one, and that Colantuono & Levin's proponents on the City Council had pretty much carried the day for the law firm that oftentimes represents the same troublesome outside interests as they do, a disturbing conflict of interest situation was brought to my attention in reader comments. The comments section of the Sierra Madre Tattler being the place where, as many are keenly aware, the more knowledgeable people of all perspectives in town let their opinions be known. Here is how it read:

Please, come to our City Council meeting and cite all the reasons we should pick RWG for our legal firm. They are the most highly qualified firm in the bidding that can help us with our water problems, Carol Lynch is the most highly qualified (rates 5 out of 5) and I'm sure to get our city they will be most willing to negotiate with us on pricing. They are super close to C&L and when figuring out all the bonus hours, might even be less expensive. 

If Josh Moran votes for C&L, I would challenge that vote since he was listed on C&L's bid as a reference for Terri (Highsmith). Who would list someone as a reference who will interview you for a job? Pretty stupid if you ask me. Yes, the fix is in.

When I read that comment I was immediately intrigued. As I've said, I suspected that the fix was in, and had been all along, but this one could have tripped over a rather bright line. I knew that the relationship between City Staff, the Mayor and our Colantuono & Levin City Attorney Teresa L. Highsmith was annoyingly chummy, but had they now breached a much more serious ethical frontier?

I asked the commenter to e-mail me with more information, and here is what showed up in this blog's mailbox:

I was the one who posted re: references for C&L. On the packet that C&L sent to the City Council for consideration, Terri (Highsmith) listed both Josh Moran and Elaine Aguilar as references. When asked about it by Chris Koerber, she said it never occurred to her that this would be a conflict of interest, that she merely listed them as references who could answer questions about her qualifications. Then Chris asked her if she didn't have any other references she could use, she became flustered and said, yes, I have other references, but . . .  Carol  Lynch knows Elaine professionally as they worked together at La Puente from 1995 to 2001.  That only came out when Chris asked Elaine to explain their connection.  Carol did not make that connection at any time which, I think, was the ethical thing to do.

That was not the only e-mail I received on this matter. Another reader also wrote in, and here is what she had to say:

Am I the only person in Sierra Madre who finds it odd that Ms. Highsmith from Colantuono & Levin listed both our City Manager and our Mayor as references in her firm's proposal to continue to represent the City? The proposal is a huge document - the relevant page is attached. What issues does it raise for our Mayor's objectivity in this case? 

Here is how the two references in question appear in that document:

E. References and Potential Conflicts of Interest

1. Provide references and contact information for five municipal clients for which services have been provided in the last three years

References for Teresa l. Highmsith:

Elaine Aguilar, City Manager
City of Sierra Madre
Telephone: (626) 355-2917
eaguilar@cityofsierramadre.com

Josh Moran, Mayor
City of Sierra Madre
Telephone: (626) 808-8083 (cell)
jmoran@cityofsierramadre.com

References are provided from various other municipal dignitaries in Los Alamitos, Barstow, La Habra Heights and Grass Valley as well. However, none of them are currently making decisions about whether to hire a new City Attorney or not. I should also note that Los Alamitos and La Habra Heights had both recently seen the resignation of firm partner Sandra Levin as their designated Colantuono & Levin City Attorney, so I don't know if those two references are a completely conflict free resume' builder, either.

All of which raises this large and obvious question. Should Josh Moran, a listed reference for City Attorney Highsmith, also be one of the 5 individuals on the City Council deciding whether or not to rehire her and her firm? Is this within the conflict of interest parameters of an RFP process, something that is conducted in order to ensure that we receive the best possible value for our tax dollars? Both financial and ethical? Does the possible ethical conflict here seem as troubling to you as it does to me?

It also raises the matter of Ms. Highsmith's judgement. Do we really want a City Attorney lacking in the kind of legal and ethical sensitivity likely shown in this application? Shouldn't a City Attorney representing us be aware of how this sort of thing could appear in the more exacting legal and governmental circles? Don't we want a City Attorney who can effectively play at even the highest professional levels?

And there is also this. Should this matter be considered by the City Council, and obviously it needs to at least be discussed, who will make the legal call? The Colantuono & Levin City Attorney seated at the dais alongside the ultimate decision makers on whether or not to rehire Colantuono & Levin?

If you're asking me, I think there are some problems here.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

38 comments:

  1. Like so many other issues handled by local city governments, the fix is in.

    Backroom dealings are taking place faster than you can say, Jack Robinson.

    Power brokers are meeting or having their go-betweens carry messages abck and forth like carrier pigions to resolve the matter of a city attorney.

    This is where favors are called in and thus we now have an appointment.

    P.S. the voting public gets NO input on this matter whats so ever.

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    Replies
    1. I look forward to John Harabedian explaining why he has chosen to choose Colantuono and Levin. It could be one of the great Sierra Madre BS masterpieces of all time.

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    2. It is always about money with these people. Follow the almighty dollar. You know the DIC crowd wants C&L to stay.

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    3. Of course they do. Colantuono can work around anything - ordinances, general plans, voters rights - anything.

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    4. That is why they make the big bucks. They specialize in taking the taxpayer out of the decision making process. Corrupt City Hall types just love that kind of action.

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    5. Colantuono and Levin: We keep you safe from your constituents.

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  2. Yikes! I don't know if using the names of the people that are hiring you as a reference is unethical, but it certainly gives some insight into the lack of critical thinking that goes on in the C&L firm. Is that the kind of law firm we want to pay lots and lots of money?

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  3. "References are provided from various other municipal dignitaries in Los Alamitos, Barstow, La Habra Heights and Grass Valley as well."

    Where do one find the complete list?

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    Replies
    1. On the city website. A special City Council meeting on this topic was held on the 23rd. Josh and Elaine are used by Colantouono & Levin for references on pages 17 and 27 of the City Council agenda packet. Big old document, so I hope your computer is healthy.

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  4. Even more troubling is the connection of our City Manager. Whom it appears has a long time connection and influence over our City Attorney. Does that ring a "Bell". Talk of Corruption, the Mayor, City Manager, Acting City Attorney and the re-affirming of a inferior law firm which charges us an arm, and both legs. C$L will never be replaced until the minions and the City Manager are replaced. The City Manager should be Fired.

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  5. Even the slightest whiff of impropriety should send up red flags. This is more than that.

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  6. Yes, Josh should recuse himself. Then there are four to vote. Look it up. If there is a tie, there is no one to break the tie and the vote is a NO!

    Next!

    Vote on the other application: If it is 3-2 against the competing group, not only are we where we are now but the easy question has been answered: Is the fix in?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, Josh needs to recuse himself.

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    2. He needs to leave the room and look ashamed while he's doing it.

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    3. third on that. a recusal would be the correct thing to do.

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    4. Josh needs to bow out. He has compromised his integrity.

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  7. I hear Nancy Walsh is on the fence about this .. She is going to call Josh today and get a reference for Teresa Highsmith.

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    Replies
    1. Nancy has never been on the fence. She votes as she is told to vote.

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    2. Agreed, 9:20.
      Not sure if the capacity for original thought is even part of Walsh's equipment.

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    3. Nancy only reacts to stimulus and reward. John Buchanan trained her with crackers.

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  8. Here is my question. If two or more City Councilmembers go to Josh for a reference for M'lady Highsmith, is it a Brown Act violation?

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    Replies
    1. You have to prove that 3 of them got together on this.

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  9. I believe the council will vote on the City Atty position at the Feb. 5 meeting. Please come and speak to this issue. It's important!

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  10. This is C & L doing what C & L does best - something that seems illegal to anyone with common sense, but actually is a hair's breadth from illegal. Sort of pre-illegal. The law firm no doubt put many hours into preparing all the application materials, so I think you can bet it's not a violation of any existing law. But is it ethical? Hell no. They are not about ethical.

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    Replies
    1. Can C&L be cited for attempting to enable a Brown Act violation?

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    2. Don't think so.

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    3. I don't really think anyone is going to call Josh for his recommendation. I doubt it will help.

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    4. You want someone to? I don't mind at all.

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    5. Yeah, call him up. And whatever he tells you post it here.

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    6. it seems to me that the mayor's recommendation being made, and posted prior to discussion and a vote influence the outcome of the vote. It seems on the surface to be a no no.

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  11. When nepotism can't fill the bill, rely on cronyism!

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  12. Un ethical. YES. Any reference listed on a job application has a bias towards that person. The council member may not vote. Did either law firm provide past case histories or decisions which would show what types of gains and savings were safe guarded for cities that they have representated?

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  13. No Hail Hamilton in the Looney this week. Look likes Harriet took him to the woodshed.

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  14. Here are the qualifications needed by a good legal team working for the city:

    1.) can you lie with a straight face.

    2.) have you ever been caught lying?

    3.) was it ever taken to court?

    4.) can you blackmail or bribe people?

    5.) do you know when to lawyer up?

    6.) do you have an escape plan if it's needed?

    7.) how much money does it take for you or your staff to be the fall guy?

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  15. 8.) will you get a percentage cut on the development?

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  16. Here are the qualifications needed by a good legal team working for the city:

    1.) Can you lie with a straight face.

    2.) Have you ever been caught lying?

    3.) Was it ever taken to court?

    4.) Can you blackmail or bribe people?

    5.) Do you know when to lawyer up?

    6.) Do you have an escape plan if it's needed?

    7.) How much money does it take for you or your staff to be the fall guy?

    8.) Will you get a percentage cut on the development?

    9.) Are you willing to crush seniors and children in order to win a unethical case for the city?

    10.) Can we trust you? this is optional?

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  17. 11.) how many different ways can you use the word "process?"

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