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Costa Mesa to study options for filling city attorney position

Costa Mesa will explore in detail options for filling the position of city attorney, following a split City Council decision earlier this week.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday — with Mayor Pro Tem Allan Mansoor and Councilman Jim Righeimer opposed — the council directed city staff to study and prepare a report on the available alternatives for potentially moving on from the law firm Jones & Mayer, which Costa Mesa has contracted with since 2004.

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Tom Duarte, a partner in the firm, has served as municipal counsel since 2011.

Options include launching a search for another law firm, hiring an in-house employee to assume the role or, potentially, seeking to make the city attorney an elected position.

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The council also could opt against making a change.

Councilman John Stephens, who proposed the item, said his goal is to take a detailed look at all the options so the council can vet the pros and cons of each.

"I'm not convinced that we're getting the best service, and I'm not convinced we're getting the most effective and most economical service," he said during the council meeting. "Furthermore, as a matter of fiscal responsibility, this is a huge line item."

According to a staff report, the city has paid Jones & Mayer at least $1.3 million for legal services in each of the past five years. Last year, the bill topped $2.5 million.

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Righeimer, however, intimated that the proposal stemmed from a disagreement between Stephens and Duarte over whether the council could remove member Katrina Foley from her appointed role as mayor and replace her with Sandy Genis.

In November, Duarte said his initial opinion was that the council could take that action, but Stephens — an attorney himself — said he believed the move violated the municipal code.

"This is a personal vendetta against Tom Duarte because John's upset," Righeimer said. "There's nothing more to this. This is a shot across the bow."

Stephens denied that assertion.

Sober-living resolution

In other business, council members unanimously adopted a resolution supporting federal legislative efforts that would enhance local authority to regulate residential recovery facilities and sober-living homes.

The proliferation of such facilities, which typically house recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, has for years been a major topic of concern in Costa Mesa. Residents and officials have said they can harm the character of local neighborhoods and lead to problems with traffic, litter, parking, noise and other issues.

However, because recovering addicts are considered disabled under state and federal laws, Costa Mesa is limited in terms of the regulations it can impose on sober-living homes.

Councilwoman Katrina Foley, who brought the resolution forward, said the council's support "helps us when we're trying to make changes in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C."

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"This is not a partisan issue," she said. "This is a non-partisan, quality-of-life, quality-of-patient care issue."

Items trailed again

For the third time in as many meetings, council members opted to adjourn shortly after midnight and shelve several agenda items.

Among the delayed items were a proposed partnership with the Costa Mesa Sanitary District for a pilot program to provide mobile restrooms to serve the local homeless population and a discussion about noise issues stemming from John Wayne and Long Beach airports.

Both of those items originally appeared on the council's Jan. 16 agenda, but have yet to receive a hearing.

Also delayed was a scheduled discussion of whether the city should resume recording and broadcasting council candidate forums. City staff used to do so, but in 2016 the then-council majority ended the practice — citing concern about using public resources for events that might not be politically neutral.

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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