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Opinion

From the Bullpen: Cleaning out the city attorney’s office

Back in December, I wrote about predictions for the coming year, and here we are only three weeks into January and already two have come true.

What’s funny was one was tongue-in-cheek and the other serious. As a joke, I said the Burbank Leader and Glendale News-Press would combine and of course, Glendale would demand that their name came first. I guess it wasn’t a joke.

On the serious side, I said Burbank City Atty. Dennis Barlow would leave his job. While it was really no secret around City Hall that he would be leaving, it was the announcement itself that has me a little baffled.

I will admit, I do not know him personally besides saying ‘Hi’ a couple times in passing when I have been up at City Hall. It’s more of a feeling, or impression, that you get of someone based on their actions over a period of time. You have not actually met the candidates for president or governor, but you get a feeling for someone and based your vote and opinions on it.

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So Barlow has decided to step down in September. At a time when Burbank is facing a mountain of police-related litigation and other lawsuits, we are going to have to deal with a changeover at the top. This is the guy who has helped set the direction that the city finds itself going in, and now, when it’s ready to hit the fan, he is bailing.

This is the guy who has gone after some local small businesses with the full power of his office instead of trying to work out something in a less threatening manner. He has also been ineffectual in advising the City Council on the Brown Act and other issues.

It is time for the City Council to accept his resignation and give him no later than a two-month window to leave, even if they need to pay him until September, and expedite a search for a new city attorney who can come in and get up to speed on these pending cases. Maybe he will continue the legal fight, or maybe he will suggest that the city settle the lawsuits after reviewing this huge mess, saving taxpayers money in the long run. But at this point, it needs to be the new city attorney’s choice, not Barlow’s.

It is also time to clean house in the city attorney’s office, much in the way that interim Police Chief (when are we going to make him permanent?) Scott LaChasse was allowed to bring in his own command staff. The new city attorney must be allowed to do the same.

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It seems that we hear people’s names, such as Chief Assistant City Atty. Juli Scott, a little too often when it comes to controversial events. Is this under the direction of Barlow, or is she going rogue at times? No matter, it is time to give the new city attorney a clean start.

Last I checked, it was Scott who was stonewalling this newspaper in answering a Freedom of Information Act for records concerning city bonuses. In his column, Dan Evans cited Scott for standing in the way of a request that had already been backed by recent case law. To this day, I am still waiting, like a lot of readers, for that information to come out.

I cheered Evans for his comments and hope that the matter is still in the forefront, and not sidelined. While I do not begrudge anyone receiving a bonus for good work, after the Bell incident, I want to know if someone is making over 5% of his salary on a bonus.

While picking a new city attorney is a very important decision, it needs to be at the top of the council’s agenda and dealt with quickly, before the election process. We have a very qualified lawyer on the council in Mayor Anja Reinke, and we would be wise in using her expertise in vetting the next person who can either save us, or cost us millions of dollars during a down economy.

CRAIG SHERWOOD is the executive editor of BurbankNBeyond.com and a baseball coach at Burbank High School. He can be reached at csherwood@burbanknbeyond.com.


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