Santa Monica Council May Call for Audit of City Attorney’s Office
The office of Santa Monica City Atty. Robert M. Myers, who has angered some city officials by refusing to prosecute nonviolent, homeless people, may be audited because of allegations that it is slow and uncooperative. Councilman William Jennings said he will request the independent audit at Tuesday’s council meeting. He said the city attorney’s conduct and management skills require serious examination.
“It’s one thing just to limp along with your city attorney not getting (work) out as rapidly as you think he should,” Jennings said. “But when it’s combined with other things (such as Myers’ stand on the homeless), it raises substantial questions as to just what’s going on at that office.”
Myers, 36, who has been city attorney for four years, declined comment on the possibility of an audit.
In a report issued last year, Myers said the problem of the homeless should be addressed outside the criminal justice system: “The citizens of Santa Monica must recognize that the homeless, whether in Palisades Park, along the beach or foraging in the trash bins behind grocery stories, are symptomatic of a national crisis not attributable to the policy of any present or past city administration.”
Jennings recently questioned why Myers refused to prosecute homeless people who had been arrested by local police. He said Myers’ position, which conflicts with the hard-line stand of some council members, is one of several problems associated with his office. Some council members have also criticized Myers for responding slowly to requests for legal drafts, and, Jennings said, they privately have cautioned him about what they viewed as an overly independent attitude.
Jennings said he expects Councilman David Epstein, an ally in the All Santa Monica Coalition, a moderate political organization whose members hold a majority of council seats, to second the motion for the audit. Epstein, who has frequently criticized Myers, said he will make a final decision after discussing the matter with the full council in executive session.
The two council members affiliated with Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the liberal organization that supported Myers’ appointment when it held the council majority, questioned the motives for the audit.
“I think that the call for some sort of outside audit of Bob Myers’ office is purely political,” said Councilman James Conn. “The council majority wants to hang Bob because he is the chief defender of the city’s rent control law. They want him out.”
Councilman Dennis Zane, the other renter activist, agreed.
“The attack on Myers is wholly and purely political,” Zane said. “Tenants need to show Jennings and Epstein that they won’t have the defender of the rent control law attacked in this blatantly political fashion.”
Jennings denied that his call for an audit was politically motivated or constituted an attack on rent control."We’ve had problems in the past about (Myers’) attitude,” he said. “No one on the council has questioned Bob’s legal ability. We all agree that he’s a brilliant lawyer. The question is whether his politics get in the way of his lawyering.”
Zane also questioned the criticism of Myers’ performance when the council in July gave him a $12,000 raise, making his salary $69,000 a year. Jennings said the raise was approved to keep the pay scale competitive with other city attorneys’ offices and did not necessarily reflect satisfaction with Myers’ performance.
Jennings said the audit would help council members examine three important areas: the internal management of the office, its civil advisory activities and its preparation of ordinances and resolutions requested by the City Council.
The audit would require the approval of four of the seven council members if the money to pay for the study was taken from an existing fund. It would require five council votes if new funds had to be appropriated. The cost of an audit was not immediately known.
Zane and Conn have already vowed to oppose it. Of the five council members affiliated with the All Santa Monica Coalition, Epstein, Herb Katz and Alan Katz said they would consider supporting Jennings’ motion. Mayor Christine E. Reed was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
The audit would be the first public examination of Myers’ office.
The city attorney, who has been frequently lauded for his legal skills but lambasted for what both his supporters and opponents have described as an abrasive manner, was appointed in 1981. He previously was an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles at its Venice ofice. As the author of the 1979 Santa Monica rent control law, Myers is seen by some as the “father of rent control” in the city.
In several instances over the past few years, Myers helped defend the law against legal challenges from apartment owners. Because of his defense of the law, Zane and Conn contend that any attack on Myers is actually an attack on rent control, but others say the real issue is that Myers is too independent for his job.
Concerned by Management
Speaking at a conference on the homeless earlier this month, Epstein accused the city attorney of failing to perform his offical duties. Epstein said in an interview he is concerned about Myers’ overall management of the city attorney’s office. Epstein declined to be more specific, saying he would first discuss his concerns in an executive council session.
Herb Katz, another critic of Myers’ handling of the homeless during his 1984 campaign, also charged that Myers has been slow in responding to some council requests, but refused to be specific. Alan Katz, who was appointed to the council this month after the death of Councilman Ken Edwards, said it was too soon for him to judge Myers’ performance and suggested that an audit may even support Myers.
“It could wind up showing that Myers’ office is operating in a fashion typical of city attorneys’ office for a city of this size and complexity,” Katz said. “If a motion is made to conduct such an audit, one of the people I’ll be interested in hearing from is Bob Myers.”