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First, a few general thoughts and then I will respond to some of your comments. This is obviously a controversial issue and thus worthy of discussion. I am of the opinion that when discussing the proper structure of government it should be done without regard to any particular person or personality. Those who recommend structural changes based on individuals do so at their own peril. That said, I would hope we could all have a professional discussion without the personal attacks.
The question of electing versus appointing a city attorney is certainly an interesting one. I too value the people’s right to vote and to choose their elected officials. The question however, is under the current strong mayor form of government, where the mayor is now held accountable for the operations of the city, should the city attorney be elected or appointed?
There seems to be two camps here. Those who believe that the role of the city attorney is to act as a watchdog over city officials, in which case you would likely support an elected city attorney. Then there are those who believe that the city charter means what it says when it states:
The City Attorney shall be the chief legal advisor of, and attorney for the City and all Departments and offices thereof in matters relating to their official powers and duties
In that case, it is a more difficult question.
I happen to fall into the latter group believing that the role of the city attorney is to provide competent legal advice to our elected officials. That said, I don’t have a problem with a watchdog, I just don’t think it should be the city attorney. Individuals and corporations hire attorneys to advise and assist them, not to be monitored by them. I just can’t imagine an individual or corporation not being able to select his or her own attorney. It seems to me that fundamental in the attorney-client relationship is the ability of the client to not only choose their own attorney, but have absolute confidence that the attorney will represent their interests.
Can you imagine General Electric’s chief legal counsel putting out interim reports criticizing its top management and accusing them of corruption? The moment that happens the attorney-client relationship is destroyed forever. Even if you believe that the role of the city attorney is to act as watchdog over elected officials, who then is supposed to handle the day-to-day legal work that comes with a billion dollar municipality? If all the city departments fear and distrust the elected city attorney, from where do they get their day-to-day legal advice needed to run the city?
Although I am not completely convinced that that an elected city attorney won’t work, I do see some compelling arguments for one that’s appointed.
— PAUL E. COOPER