With the debate over the structure of the City Attorney’s Office heating up, City Attorney Mike Aguirre has released a report warning against making changes out of a reaction to a specific officer holder.

“In the context of Charter reform, it is thus inappropriate to engage in a wholesale restructure of the institution of the City Attorney’s Office out of a reaction to the person ‘at a certain time and place’ operating within those rules,” the report reads. It continues: “If one does not approve of the way in which the present office holder is operating within the rules of the office, the answer is at the voting booth — to change the person holding the office, not to change the institution’s rules of operation.”

The Charter Review Committee has been discussing the possibility of reverting back to an appointed, rather than elected, city attorney.

A subcommittee has also approved a proposal to reword a section of the city’s constitution to state that the City Council is the city attorney’s client; Aguirre argues that the public is his client and, therefore, he need not seek the City Council’s approval before filling lawsuits.

In advocating for his office’s independence from the rest of the city structure, Aguirre quotes former City Attorney Edward T. Butler in 1969, who said the city attorney was a “watchdog” and “perhaps the conscience of the community.”

Bulter also said:

An independent, elective City Attorney safeguards the public good because he is responsive to the electorate. To reduce him to the status of servant to the City Council or to the City Manager disregards the bitter lessons of our past and opens a door to those who would feather their nests at the expense of the people.

The report quotes former City Attorney John Witt:

The people, and not the mayor and council, are the government under our system. The city attorney is counsel not to part of the government; and the mayor and council are only a delegated part. Instead, he is attorney for all of the government, which flows from and includes the people as a body politic.

The report also refers to some less formal documentation in crafting its argument, such as a rough draft of a 1929 proposal made by a labor union representative that called for independence — but spelled it “independance.”

ANDREW DONOHUE

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