City attorney must take time to make time

The work habits of City Attorney Christi Hogin were closely scrutinized at the City Council’s quarterly review meeting last week, and the groundwork was laid for even closer scrutiny, but Hogin did not appear rattled by the council’s actions.

Mayor Pro Tem Walt Keller, saying he wanted an accounting of how Hogin spends her time on the job, pushed through the council a requirement that Hogin provide weekly time sheets documenting her hours of work for the city.

Councilman Tom Hasse sought information on her choices for outside counsel and an explanation for why she did not attend Planning Commission meetings. Hasse, who is not an attorney, also indicated he plans to review one of her case files as a sample of her work.

The council was meeting in special session to review projects the city has planned for the first quarter of the 1998-1999 fiscal year.

When Keller initially proposed his idea for time sheets, Hogin said producing a weekly log would reduce the amount of substantive legal work she could accomplish. “I would venture to say that you have no idea how much work [legal assistant] Jeff [Madland] and I do,” she said.

Keller said he asked for the time sheets because he did not know how much work she does. “We have a responsibility to the community to know how someone we are paying is spending their time,” he said.

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After none of the council members spoke against the proposal, and Hasse joined Keller in his effort, Hogin said she would produce a time log by the end of this week. “Let me take a crack at it,” she said.

Keller said later that he was not singling Hogin out for selective treatment. He said he gets some information on the work of the other city department heads from a weekly report that City Manager Harry Peacock prepares. That report does not include an update of the city attorney’s work. But it also does not include a summary of the hours worked by the other department heads.

Keller plans to seek time sheets from all the department heads, but he did not know whether the other council members would support him in that effort.

At the meeting last week, Hasse said he was interested in time sheets only from the city attorney. The other council members did not speak on the issue.

Hogin said this week that she was not insulted by the request for time sheets. “Jeffrie and I are proud of the quantity of work we put out in a week,” she said. Her only concern about the request, she said, was how much of her work time would be consumed producing detailed time sheets.

In private practice, attorneys, often juggling work on a number of different cases in one day, keep highly detailed records of their work, in order to assure that the proper client is billed for the work performed. City attorneys, on the other hand, work exclusively for the city that employs them, and they do not bill for their work.

During Hasse’s questioning of Hogin, he closely queried her on how she chooses outside firms to assist her in some of her case load.

Hogin said that some cases, like those involving labor or personal injury issues, are automatically referred to outside firms. She said she gets the names of firms from other city attorneys and from a directory produced by the California League of Cities. “How wide is the net that you cast for firms?” asked Hasse. “Not very wide,” Hogin replied. “I look for references, not in the yellow pages.”

She said, as an example, she consulted with other city attorneys prior to selecting the firm she had hoped would assist her with the investigation into possible violations of local election laws during the last City Council campaign.

That investigation, which is being conducted without outside counsel, deals in large part with the activities of the Road Worriers, a political action committee that worked to elect Hasse to the council and to defeat former Mayor Jeff Jennings.

Hasse said he would like to see more “standardized criteria” be used for selecting outside counsel. The other council members joined him in requesting that Hogin provide a report on the process by which she awards legal contract work.

Hasse also asked Hogin why she did not attend meetings of the Planning Commission. He said that during his tenure on the commission, he sometimes wished an attorney representing the city was present. He said also that other cities’ planning commissions, like Beverly Hills’ and Santa Monica’s, are staffed by attorneys. Hogin said the decision not to have an attorney present at Planning Commission meetings predated her arrival in the city. She said she would nonetheless meet with Planning Director Craig Ewing to discuss the issue.

Councilman Harry Barovsky, who also served on the Planning Commission, said he thought an attorney should be present at commission meetings only when a major land-use issue is before the commission. “To have one there every time, twice a month, I don’t see it’s worth the money,” he said. “And I don’t care what other cities are doing.”

13StarsManager
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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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