The Spokane City Council is poised to assert its independence from Mayor David Condon’s administration as it begins a search for its own attorney.
Council members say relying on legal advice from city administration threatens their autonomy.
“There’s a potential for conflict,” said Council President Ben Stuckart. “As long as we’re a separate arm of government, we should have separate counsel.”
The position, called policy adviser, will have a salary of up to almost $103,000 and was funded by the council when it approved this year’s budget in November. The hiring process, which will begin Monday when the city posts the position and seeks applicants, is expected to be complete by April. The final interviews will be public, Stuckart said.
The adviser will perform most roles of a city attorney, including legal research and analysis, drafting ordinances and resolutions, and attending council meetings. The adviser will not represent the council in court, because of restrictions in the city charter.
Councilman Jon Snyder said the council and mayor already have butted heads on legal matters, notably when the city was setting up police oversight.
“Our objectives were completely at odds,” Snyder said. “That was very clear.”
Councilman Mike Allen, who has advocated for a separate attorney since 2009, agreed.
“The ombudsman situation. We were told there wasn’t a solution” to expanding powers, he said. “Then Steve (Salvatori) and I came up with the solution – to take it to the voters.”
Stuckart said he’s been asked by people outside City Hall to consider creating an elected city attorney position. Pete Holmes, Seattle’s elected city attorney, is politically active, notably around issues of marijuana legalization.
Snyder didn’t support such a move, saying there are too many elected officials in the county who should be appointed, such as the county treasurer and clerk.
Whoever is hired will replace Mike Piccolo, the city attorney who has advised the council for 14 years. Piccolo said he’s been overwhelmed by the amount of work given to him by the current council, leading to neglect of other clients he has at the city, such as the library and Civil Service Commission.
Still, he valued his time with the council and said some form of the relationship likely would continue.
“By no means is our office going to disappear,” he said. “They’ll still have the resources of our office. We expect the policy adviser to be picking our brains.”
Piccolo said he won’t seek the adviser position, but some council members say they’d gladly hire him, or someone like him who is, as Allen said, “always very fair, very balanced. Never up, never down.”
“I’m looking for a clone of Mike Piccolo,” he said.
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