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Huntington Beach approves pay raises for city attorney and 2 staff attorneys

Huntington Beach approves pay raises for city attorney and 2 staff attorneys
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates will receive a $12 hourly pay increase, to $117, starting July 1 after approval from the City Council on Monday. (File Photo)

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates and two staff attorneys will receive salary increases following about two hours of deliberation among city officials this week.

One of the staff attorneys also will receive a promotion to a newly created second chief assistant city attorney position.

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Gates will receive a $12 hourly pay increase, to $117, starting July 1. The adjustment takes into account his performance in office and that he voluntarily took a lower salary than his predecessor when voters elected him in 2014, according to the city.

Brian Williams, city senior trial counsel, will be promoted to the new position. Williams — who was hired in 2017 at $14,400 per month with no bonuses or overtime pay — will now earn up to $16,026 per month.

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Current Chief Assistant City Attorney Mike Vigliotta will receive a $771 monthly increase, to $16,026.

The salary increases will be absorbed by the city attorney’s regular annual budget, which is set at about $2.6 million for fiscal 2019-20.

The City Council on Monday approved Gates’ proposals in three separate votes after Mayor Erik Peterson initially made a motion to approve them in one vote. The motion received support only from Mayor Pro Tem Lyn Semeta and Councilman Mike Posey.

Gates made a presentation outlining in detail how he strategically trimmed unnecessary resources and eliminated overtime to drive down costs in the city attorney’s office. He also highlighted the office’s accomplishments, including how the in-house legal staff has help save local taxpayers money by challenging lawsuits instead of settling.

Semeta said she was impressed with Gates’ efficiency and noted that, as an elected official, his salary doesn’t increase in steps like other employees.

Semeta called Williams one of the best attorneys she’s seen and said any penny he received in a salary increase would be justified.

Posey said Gates showed how he has saved money for the city.

But some council members said they were struggling to support Gates’ requests.

Councilwoman Jill Hardy said it was challenging to approve raises for Williams and Vigliotta when she has had to say no to other employees. Hardy said Semeta made a good argument for Gates’ salary increase.

Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize asked whether Gates would consider increasing one salary per year instead of all three at once, but Gates said he wanted the new pay to go into effect in the new fiscal year. He also said Williams is “woefully underpaid” and that he wanted to retain his talent.

“He’s irreplaceable,” Gates told the council. “If we did lose him, I don’t know if I can get somebody like him back.”

Even with the proposed raises, Huntington Beach still would rank lowest in salaries compared with other in-house city attorney offices, according to data collected by the city’s human resources department.

On a 6-1 vote, the council approved the new chief assistant city attorney position. Councilwoman Kim Carr dissented, questioning whether Williams needs the new title to keep him in Huntington.

The council voted 5-2, with Delgleize and Hardy dissenting, to approve the new salaries for Williams and Vigliotta.

The council approved increasing Gates’ salary on a 5-2 vote, with Delgleize and Carr dissenting.

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