It also looks like that all too familiar law firm Holly is employed by, our very own Colantuono & Levin, is out on its ear there as well. And they too will be packing up their carpet bags and skedaddling from that town just as quickly as City Attorney Whatley. A sight that for many long suffering residents in the LHH has been just too long a-coming. Here is an introductory and informative accounting from The Whittier Daily News (link):
La Habra Heights city attorney resigns - La Habra Heights City Attorney Holly Whatley has announced her resignation, effective Jan. 31.
Whatley, who replaced Sandra Levin about a year ago, said during Thursday’s City Council meeting that her firm, Colantuono and Levin, would no longer be representing the city.
“It seemed to me that my ability to be effective for the city is not what it once was, and it’s in the city’s interest to resign my position as city attorney.”
Whatley later declined to explain any further her comments. Whatley said she delayed her resignation to give the City Council time to find another attorney. She is the fifth attorney to represent the city in its 35-year history and her firm is only the second.
“I want to thank you for all your hard work for the city,” Councilman Brian Bergman told Whatley. On Friday, Mayor Roy Francis said he was surprised by the resignation. “But we’ll just have to move on and look for another one,” Francis said.
Councilman Kyle Miller said he appreciates the work from Whatley’s firm and the job she did individually. Whatley has had to represent the city during the past few months in the dispute over the City Hall renovation, including an appeal of a conditional use permit allowing the construction to go ahead.
Now what makes this of even greater relevance to us here in Sierra Madre is Holly "Go" Whatley has a special personal connection with our town. And not just because she works for the law firm of Colantuono & Levin, the corporate home to our very own Teresa "Red" Highsmith. This from C&L's own website (link):
Holly Whatley is Senior Counsel at the firm and serves as the City Attorney for La Habra Heights and the Assistant City Attorney for Sierra Madre. She also heads the firm’s Litigation Department focusing on public law disputes, including post-redevelopment and other municipal finance issues, matters involving Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs), land use, CEQA, election, public works and employment law disputes. Holly is a seasoned litigator with significant experience in complex litigation in a broad range of areas.
You'd think that our oftentimes less than transparent City Hall might have shared some of this information with us. It isn't every day that our Assistant City Attorney gets run out of another town under less than spectacular circumstances. Then again, our City doesn't like to talk about this kind of stuff. After all, we're still waiting for some kind of an explanation about our Moody's bond rating mess.
Perhaps the folks working at our City Hall just don't like to dwell on the negative. They haven't got time for the pain. Or it is possible they simply hoped we'd never find out.
So why does Ms. Go Whatley and Colantuono & Levin now find themselves begging the pardon of the good citizens of La Habra Heights and then lighting out for the parking lot? There are a couple of Whittier Daily News articles that shed some light on what could be the cause of so tearful a departure. Here is the first one (link):
L.A. County District Attorney’s Office accuses La Habra Heights of breaking state open-meeting law: LA HABRA HEIGHTS - The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has accused the city of breaking the state’s open-meeting law twice in the last six months.
In letters sent to the city, the Planning Commission is accused of not allowing residents to speak at an Aug. 27 meeting and the City Council is alleged to have illegally engaged in what’s called a “serial meeting” in which individually they approved spending, instead doing it at a public meeting.
The District Attorney’s Office isn’t taking any further action than sending a letter in both cases.
Bjorn Dodd, deputy district attorney who sent both letters, said his office in most cases can do no more than send a warning.
“That’s what’s available as a remedy,” Dodd said. “You can only prosecute for certain misdemeanors and these violations didn’t amount to a misdemeanor.”
All other remedies would consist of having a judge tell a city not to do (the wrongful act) again and that’s only for multiple violations of the same issue, Dodd said. That’s not the case here, he added.
As astute Tattler readers are clearly aware, a City Attorney that does not steer her clients away from run-ins with the Brown Act just isn't doing the job she is being paid a lot of money to do.
The second article cites the name of our friend George Edwardz. George, who forwarded to me the articles and info you are reading here today, dropped the following note into the mix.
Actually I think the resignation is a result of bad legal advice on a CUP appeal for a 2.6 million expansion of City Hall. I have sued the City for denying the public a fair hearing. The City now seeks to spend $270,000 to defend their actions. That's more than the City spends on legal services for an entire year.
I can't imagine Michael Colantuono ever voluntarily leaving $270K on the table. The cause of his firm's departure must truly be a deeply troubling one.
Here is what the Whittier Daily News has to share with us (link):
La Habra Heights Council votes to recluse itself in appeal of ruling allowing City Hall renovation: LA HABRA HEIGHTS - The City Council in a special meeting Monday voted to recluse itself from deciding an appeal of a Planning Commission ruling allowing the renovation of City Hall to go ahead.
As a result, city officials now are looking for someone with planning and, possibly, legal experience to serve as a hearing officer to rule on the appeal by activist George Edwards.
City Attorney Holly Whatley said the City Council has a potential conflict of interest because the city was the applicant in seeking the conditional use permit allowing the construction.
Since Edwards was unwilling to waive the conflict, a neutral third party is needed to hear the appeal, Whatley said.
City Hall, which dates back to the 1950s when it was built as a school, doesn’t conform to the city’s development code approved in the mid-2000s. It’s too close to Heights Christian Preschool and Infant Center, according to the current code. As a result, a permit was needed to allow the construction.
Edwards, who opposed the project when he ran unsuccessfully for City Council, said he filed his appeal because he believes the project is illegal.
“We don’t feel that city staff discretion was used in a legal way,” he said.
His appeal doesn’t refer to the issue of whether the school and City Hall are too close but asks for a traffic study, complaints that parking is reduced because it doesn’t include areas where people park even though the spots aren’t legal, and the project doesn’t meet city landscaping standards.
So let's see. Colantuono & Levin was kicked out of Los Alamitos. And now they are being shown the door in La Habra Heights as well?
Hopefully Sierra Madre will be next.