In my last post, I talked about the firing of David Miller from the City Attorney’s Office.

I ended up talking with Miller last night. And Mike Aguirre, the city attorney, decided this morning he wanted to talk about why he canned Miller as well.

First to Miller:

He said, contrary to my point in the post, that he didn’t think he got fired because of his efforts on the Sunroad tower issue. He said, in fact, he had been proactive in flagging down federal and state agencies that would warn about the dangers of the construction (Aguirre, through his spokeswoman, said those efforts were done at Aguirre’s request.)

Miller said he was fired immediately after a disagreement with his superiors, including Aguirre, about a much less important issue. It was item 334 on Tuesday’s Council docket.

It was a seemingly routine issue about a slope easement on a plot of land in the eastern part of the city. The landowner wanted to subdivide the land into five sections. The city has long held a so-called “slope easement” for the land allowing it to build a road if it needed to. Over time, if those easements aren’t employed, the landowner can go forward with development plans.

Anytime you create a new map for a plot of land like that, you have to get an environmental analysis. Miller said he disagreed with another lawyer, who was his superior, about whether the analysis they did was sufficient even though it needed a minor change. Miller thought the document was sufficient. Then Aguirre got involved.

In the video of the City Council meeting, Karen Heumann, another city attorney, can be seen telling the council that the environmental review might be sufficient but that attorneys were in another room trying to figure it out.

“Mike came down to my office and asked if I had sided with the city’s Development Services Department on the issue. I said, ‘No, Mike, I agreed with the law,’” Miller said. “After that, Mike said, ‘That’s it.’”

A top aide to Aguirre, Kathryn Burton, then told Miller she was going to have to terminate his employment.

Miller said it was clear to him that Aguirre was more interested in making policy rather than enforcing and advising the law. He also said that there was now a full-fledged battle raging between Aguirre and the city’s Development Services Department, headed by Jim Waring, a top deputy of Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Miller said the city would suffer because of it.

“If Mike Aguirre is going to be pursuing policy rather than law, the City Council and city departments are not going to be getting the legal information they need to do their job,” Miller said.

Now, Aguirre’s written statement.

You can read it here.

It starts:

… in light of the fact that Mr. David Miller chose to make his termination public, it is important for the Office of the San Diego City Attorney to reassure employees that abusive and unethical conduct will not be tolerated and will be investigated.

Aguirre said Miller was terminated for:

1) Insubordination against his supervisor, former supervisor, and the City Attorney.

2) Repeatedly withholding information from a Chief Deputy City Attorney and the City Attorney.

3) Complaints from co-workers regarding abusive conduct directed towards them which were investigated and substantiated.

Maria Velasquez, Aguirre’s spokeswoman, said the city attorney wouldn’t explain more.

I called Miller back to see what he thought. He said that, as for Nos. 2 and 3 above, he didn’t have a clue.

“I’d love to find out what information I withheld. And nobody ever came to me with questions as part of their investigation into any abusive conduct of mine,” Miller said.

And finally, Miller reflected a bit on his firing.

“I didn’t mind getting fired. I actually thought it was one of the best things that has happened to me. I was conflicted working there because I believed our job was to tell the council what the law was and let them make the decisions. But what the city attorney is doing is pushing policy and hiding the law,” Miller said.

Update: I just confirmed the ultimate irony in this story: The city attorney ended up allowing the environmental review to stand for the plot of land under question Tuesday — just as Miller had argued it should. The Council approved the tentative map in question unanimously.

SCOTT LEWIS

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