Plan Dropped for Audit of Santa Monica City Attorney
Santa Monica City Councilman William H. Jennings, who last week publicly criticized City Atty. Robert M. Myers largely for his refusal to prosecute nonviolent homeless people, has withdrawn plans to request an audit of Myers’ office.
Instead, Jennings said council members agreed in an executive session Tuesday night to privately discuss Myers’ performance with him during his annual review. The council also decided to withhold further comment on Myers.
“The council took no action that required public (disclosure),” Mayor Christine E. Reed said afterward. “And I am not going to discuss personnel matters with the press.”
Some council members had privately criticized Jennings for suggesting the audit before the council had discussed the matter in executive session. Jennings was subsequently persuaded to drop the idea, said City Hall sources who requested anonymity.
Jennings refused to disclose his reason for dropping the request but said he may reintroduce the proposal later if his dissatisfaction with Myers continues. He and other council members have criticized Myers in the past for what they called his lack of cooperation and slowness in producing legal drafts requested by the council.
Myers, 34, who was present for both the public and executive meetings, said questions about his performance should be directed to the council and declined further comment. He was appointed to his $69,000-a-year post in 1981 after authoring the city’s rent control law.
About 25 supporters of the city attorney, many of them elderly people protected by rent control, attended Tuesday’s meeting. “We really want Bob to know he’s not alone,” said Millie Rosenstein, a local political activist. But the council agenda showed that the matter had been dropped and that the council intended to discuss Myers’ performance in the closed session immediately after the council meeting.
Afterwards, Councilman James P. Conn, a Myers supporter, said the city attorney’s critics had apparently backed down from plans to call for an audit.
“They made a political attack and they have now backpedaled to some sort of administrative procedure (the annual performance review),” Conn said. “Why they shot their mouths off the first time, I don’t have any idea. But I think that the public attack is over for now.”
Change in Power
Conn is a member of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the liberal political organization that supported Myers for the post when it held a council majority. Last year, a moderate group known as the All Santa Monica Coalition captured the majority of the council seats.
Some council members affiliated with the coalition have criticized Myers’ contention that the problem of the homeless should be addressed outside the criminal justice system.
Myers has refused to say much in his defense recently. But he explained his stand on the homeless in a report issued last year by saying, “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 stores, are symptomatic of a national crisis not attributable to any present or past city administration. . . . The law will not sanction municipalities which attempt to banish the poor from their environs.”
In that same report, Myers estimated that there were more than 1,000 homeless people in Santa Monica. Instead of prosecution, he recommended establishing shelters, hiring specially trained personnel and setting up a job program.
Speaking at a conference on the homeless last month, Councilman David G. Epstein, who is affiliated with the coalition, accused Myers of failing to perform his duties.
Myers’ supporters said much of the criticism was politically motivated. Jennings last week denied a political attack and said that an independent audit of Myers’ office would answer questions about his management capabilities.