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Long-Time City Attorney Albuquerque Calls It Quits

By Judith Scherr
Friday October 19, 2007

While city insiders point to a number of accomplishments during the 26 years City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque has worked for the city, few tears were being shed Thursday at City Hall in response to the announcement of her November 30 retirement. 

Rumors had swirled around City Hall of Albuquerque’s possible departure, stemming from the aftermath of a scathing June 6 memo publicly naming the housing director, city manager and deputy city manager for problems at the housing authority, that, she alleged, stemmed from the manager’s refusal to follow her advice.  

Since that time Albuquerque’s taken many weeks of administrative, vacation and medical leave, fueling the rumors of her possible departure. 

Albuquerque was hired Oct. 15, 1981 as deputy city attorney and named city attorney Aug. 1, 1983. 

“I thank the council and the city manager and all the city councils and city managers with whom I have worked over these many years, for giving me the tremendous opportunity to serve this brilliant, visionary, idiosyncratic, sometimes quix-otic and endlessly stimulating and entertaining community,” Albuquerque wrote in a four-page letter of resignation, sent to city staff and forwarded to the Planet. 

Despite a strained relationship with the city attorney, Councilmember Dona Spring noted her defense of the public police-complaint-review process; the city’s mandate for workers at the Marina (on city-owned property) to be provided with a living wage; and the city’s position of withdrawing the Sea Scouts’ free berth at the Marina on grounds that the Boy Scouts, with whom they are affiliated, discriminate against gays and atheists. 

“I have to praise her for her many years of service,” Spring said. 

While Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he didn’t always agree with Albuquerque—and even sued the city over her position that he should step off a commission—he also said that she “deserves to retire and have the time to spend with her grandchild.” 

He praised her especially for the way that, in closed session, she would inform the council of the many lawsuits it faces and the options it would have and possible consequences. “She is an outstanding strategist,” Wozniak said. “She has to make a lot of tough calls.” 

And, said Wozniak, “She has a really wicked sense of humor.” 

In a brief e-mail announcing Albuquerque’s departure, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said he had “long admired her passion, her intelligence, and her considerable energy.” 

While the departure of long-term city employees usually is noted with outpourings of regret, three department heads reached by the Planet refused to comment on the record, one expressing outright relief. 

While Spring had some kind words for Albuquerque, she told the Planet about her objections to “the city attorney’s ad hoc interpretation of the density bonus.” The density bonus defines space a developer can build beyond local limits, when they add features, such as low-income units, to their projects. 

Spring said that while a committee was appointed to look at writing a local density bonus ordinance, Albuquerque was among those who prevented its recommendations from coming to the council. (The issue will be before the Planning Commission next week.) 

Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey expressed concerns in a phone interview with the Planet, alleging Albuquerque “abused her discretion” in interpreting the density bonus for the Gaia Building on Allston Way. Dacey is the plaintiff of record in a lawsuit regarding the city’s handling of the permits for that building. 

About Albuquerque’s departure, Dacey said frankly: “It’s an excellent thing ... She advances the causes of whoever is in power,” rather than giving disinterested advice. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he hopes a future city attorney will play the role of parliamentarian, which Albuquerque did not do.  

Worthington pointed out that the council had voted several times for the city attorney to prepare a Sunshine Ordinance, something she has not done. She also delayed the Zero Waste and Precautionary Principle ordinances, he said. When there’s a delay, “She says we don’t have staff,” such as in the proposed Campaign Finance Ordinance. “The Sweatfree Ordinance was delayed needlessly,” he said. 

The three councilmembers interviewed—Spring, Wozniak and Worthington—all said they thought the city should do a nationwide search for Albuquerque’s replacement. 

It would be important for a city attorney to recognize that “the council is your client,” Worthington said, noting the challenge city attorneys face: representing their clients rather than their own perspectives. 

“No plans have been set for her successor,” Kamlarz said in his statement.