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To a lunchtime meeting of the San Diego County Bar Association today, City Attorney Mike Aguirre recounted the history of the position as an elected office.
He sought out to prove the legislative intent of the law that made the role an elected one, using newspaper clippings, city documents and letters leading up to the 1931 election. The change was made during a period of reform in San Diego when voters wanted a city lawyer who would work on behalf of the public and not just carry out the wishes of the council, he said.
Aguirre has debated the issue over the years with several council members and city officials who argue the City Attorney’s Office is designed to advise and represent the city in legal matters — and only after receiving instruction to do so from the City Council. Aguirre has unilaterally filed lawsuits without the council’s permission.
Randy Munyon, a local tax attorney, asked Aguirre how the City Attorney’s Office can represent the mayor, department directors and council if one of those bodies is at odds with the city attorney on a legal issue. Shouldn’t those officials be allowed their own legal counsel if their interests in a matter are adverse to the city attorney’s interpretation of the public’s interest?
“No. There aren’t two sides,” Aguirre said. “The only reason they’re there is to serve the public’s interest.”
In an interview after Aguirre’s presentation, Munyon said he wasn’t sold on Aguirre’s explanation. “It was rather glib, frankly,” said Munyon, who described himself as an Aguirre supporter. “It is unrealistic to think that professional advice provided by the city attorney is in all instances agreeable to the mayor and City Council.”
He added: “They maybe need to clarify that language in the charter.”