The San Juan Capistrano city attorney does not want to investigate two councilmen whom fellow members accuse of malfeasance, and if the council chooses to pursue a query, he suggests hiring an independent third party.
“Due to the unique relationship of the city attorney to the City Council as a whole… the city attorney believes it is not in the best interest of the city or the city attorney, to have the city attorney investigate potential violations of either state or local law by any City Council members,” wrote City Attorney Hans Ligten in an agenda item to be considered Tuesday.
The controversy at hand began Oct. 1, when Councilman Roy Byrnes discussed information about a closed-door session determining whether news racks should be allowed at City Hall and other city buildings.
Byrnes said he remembered voting on the matter, but Ligten said there was no vote. Byrnes later expressed frustration at the different recollections and proposed the council consider recording closed-session actions.
In a related matter, Kramer said it appeared Councilman Derek Reeve, an attorney representing a community paper seeking the right to place news racks on city property, may have a conflict of interest in his role as a councilman. Kramer asked for a review of that matter as well.
The larger context is a divided City Council, with Reeve and Byrnes often on the losing end of votes. Many of their supporters are behind an effort to recall majority City Councilman Sam Allevato.
The council will discuss how to proceed against Byrnes and Reeve at Tuesday’s meeting.
City Attorney Ligten writes in his report that first, the councilmen have to decide whether to pursue an investigation at all. No matter what the outcome, the move alone will likely tarnish the city's image.
If the answer is still yes, the choices are referring the matter to the Orange County District Attorney’s office and/or Grand Jury or hiring a third-party .
Ligten is not recommending the first option because there’s no guarantee the DA or Grand Jury will want to review the matter at all, and if they do, the focus will be on possible law violations, not ethical concerns.
On the plus side, Ligten notes, both the DA’s office and Grand Jury have a reputation of complete independence and DA has the resources to do a thorough job. The city would also not bear the costs of such a query.
However, Ligten is recommending the council hire a third-party investigator, such as a law firm or retired judge.
“The primary benefit of using an independent investigator is that the City Council would be assured of a response within a time set by the City Council on the complete range of issues that it feels appropriate,” Ligten wrote.
The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 32400 Paseo Adelanto in San Juan Capistrano.
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