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The Southeastern Economic Development Corp.’s board of directors voted at its monthly meeting last night to approve the selection of its new corporate counsel, San Diego-based Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz.

Leslie Devaney, a former candidate for city attorney who works at the firm, made a brief presentation at the meeting, thanking the SEDC board and introducing several of her colleagues.

In selecting its new lawyers, the agency is saying goodbye to its corporate counsel, Regina Petty, of the local firm Wilson Petty Kosmo & Turner. Petty’s contract had expired several months ago and the agency has been searching for new counsel while she has stayed on in the interim. Petty said in a meeting last year that her firm would not be renewing its contract with the agency and would not reapply for the contract.

As corporate counsel, Petty oversaw a troubling time in SEDC’s history. During her tenure, it was revealed that former SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith had paid herself and her employees more than $1 million in hidden, secret bonuses that were never disclosed to the agency’s board or to the City Council.

While that scandal unfolded, Petty was criticized by members of the SEDC board. In a letter to Mayor Jerry Sanders in the wake of the bonus scandal, board member Derryl Williams accused Petty of siding with Smith and blocking the board’s access to documents and information. He wrote:

Using corporate counsel and Special Agency Counsel, the President of SEDC controlled questions and the flow of information so that board members could not obtain sufficient answers to assist in making good judgments.

And, for months, Petty and SEDC refused to provide copies of her legal bills to me, despite clear instructions in the California Public Records Act that such documents are public records that must be made available for public scrutiny.

Petty refused to answer phone calls or discuss the issue at public meetings and only eventually produced the documents after a protracted and public running battle on this blog.

Despite his prior run-ins with Petty, however, Williams had a fond farewell for the attorney as she leaves SEDC.

“I do wish her well as she moves on — she has been nothing but exceptional help for the board recently,” he said.

WILL CARLESS

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