Berkeley Plans Search for New City Attorney

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 19, 2008 - 09:41:00 AM

City Manager Phil Kamlarz has told a number of councilmembers, including Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmember Dona Spring, that he is planning a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for former City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque after the budget has been put to rest.  

The matter hasn’t been discussed publicly, but it doesn’t have to be unless the manager talks to five members of the council about it. And he says he hasn’t.  

If, how and when a search is conducted and who is nominated to fill an opening is entirely up to the manager under Berkeley’s charter. The council’s role is to vote on whether to affirm or reject the manager’s nomination.  

It’s also up to the city manager to decide whether to keep an individual as “acting” department head or to open the position to new applicants.  

In October 2007, after Albuquerque’s resignation, the manager named Assistant City Attorney Zach Cowan to the position of acting city attorney.  

City procedures now make it is impossible to apply for a position—even to leave a resume—when there is an “acting” department head.  

Human Resources Manager Dave Abel agrees that this situation is problematic, but says new software is on the way so that in the fall a person who wants to apply for a position, for example to be city attorney, will be able to leave an e-mail address to be notified as soon as the position is open.  

All department heads, except the auditor, who is elected, serve at the manager’s behest.  

Berkeley is one among only a handful of California cities where the manager nominates the city attorney. City councils appoint them in 464 of 478 incorporated California cities, according to 2004 statistics from the League of California Cities. Eleven of the city attorneys are elected, according to the league’s 2006 statistics.  

In February, Mayor Tom Bates asked the city manager, as part of a session on possible ballot measures, to research information on the way other cities appoint their attorneys.  

The mayor told the Planet that he had an interest in the question because, at the time, he thought a council-appointed city attorney might be a good move. The individual “would be directly accountable to the council,” he said.  

On the other hand, he said, “I worry about political whims and political motivation.”  

He said he reasoned further that the city attorney is accountable to the council indirectly. “The city attorney is not directly accountable to the council, but the city manager is ... The city manager is accountable to the city councilmembers.”  

He said he concluded, “Our system works well.”  

Nonetheless, Bates said he’s been talking to the city manager about allowing the City Council to choose between the manager’s top two candidates.  

Currently Kamlarz is faced with naming two of the most important administrators in the city, both the city attorney and the city clerk.  

After a medical-related leave, City Clerk Pamyla Means resigned in May. Last week Kamlarz named former Deputy City Clerk Deanna Despain as acting city clerk.  

In Berkeley, the city manager appoints the city clerk. In some cities the city council appoints the clerk, and 154 cities in California elect their city clerks.