This is a repetition of a similar comment by Councilmember Anderson in the Press, when it was announced that City Attorney Alison Barrett-Green was leaving city employment as a cost saving to the city.
What’s wrong with both of these statements is that they are conclusionary statements that omit significant contrary facts. What they really do is serve to hide a series of bad judgment calls by the City Council.
A quick review of the numbers shows the problem pretty clearly: Ms. Green was paid approximately $113 per hour for her salary and benefits. (Less, by the way, than the city manager makes.) So letting her go appears to have saved a lot of money, but let’s calculate that supposed savings.
First, her severance agreement called for her to be paid her full salary for seven months following her departure, which the city has been paying since Feb. 1 (about one week after her January meeting with the council), while getting zero benefit for that money.
Second, she was replaced in February, part-time by retired Antioch City Attorney Bill Galstan, who charges Oakley $100 per hour and has run up a bill, as of the first week of June, of $20,000. That’s on top of her salary!
Third, recall that as reported in the Press, at its 4/10/09 meeting, the city hired a private law firm at $350 per hour to look into issues regarding the proposed Hillcrest eBART station and the City of Antioch (see agenda item 3.10 on the city’s Web site). The city hasn’t received a bill yet, so we can’t tell you the total cost of that decision. (Full-time city attorneys are hired to save money by doing research like that and to minimize the use of outside counsel. Oakley’s former law firm charged annual amounts higher than Ms. Green’s salary.)
But Mr. Galstan and/or the city believed that he has a conflict, so the Oakley City Council is paying even more taxpayer money out as a result of its supposed firing of the city attorney to save money! (Worse, the issue with Antioch is a political issue, not a legal issue, and it is the responsibility of the councilmember representing Oakley on the regional transportation authorities and ePAC to resolve those. Since January, that has been Councilmember Frazier. Oakley should never sue over this type of issue, as it only wastes taxpayer funds and destroys the regional goodwill that is vital to East County’s continued success in transportation issues.)
Sadly, the costs to the Oakley taxpayers still aren’t over. As part of the severance agreement, Oakley taxpayers also may have to absorb the cost of a $100,000 loan the city made to Ms. Green to enable her to buy a house in Oakley at the top of the housing market. Ms. Green took the loan because the council wanted her to live in Oakley and she could not sell her home before moving. Accommodating the council’s desire left her with two mortgages. (You can see the loan discussion on the city Web site under the 11/26/07 agenda, item 3.6, and on the 4/10/09 agenda at item 3.4: the agreement to forgive the loan.)
So where are the savings? The clear answer is: there are only high costs to the taxpayers; no savings. In his 4/10/09 staff report, Mr. Galstan refers to it as only “eventual savings,” since clearly there are no savings now.
I add to the above that Ms. Green is an outstanding lawyer whom I have known professionally for several years. Her ethics and work habits are exemplary.
The council’s tally of bad judgment calls so far:
1. Treating a good employee very shabbily, at a large dollar cost to the city, and sending a horrible message to the remaining city employees.
2. Falsely claiming to save money by letting the city attorney go.
3. Hiring an ex-Antioch city attorney with obvious conflicts.
4. Needlessly hiring an expensive law firm to handle a political issue.
So, if there were no savings, what was the real reason the city attorney (who by all accounts was doing a great job) was let go? See the next edition of the Press for that discussion.
Mr. Nix is a former Oakley Councilmember and Oakley Inc. member who represented the city for 10 years on regional transportation committees. He has practiced law for 27 years.