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Santa Monica Firefighter Can’t Be on Council and Keep Job, City Attorney Says
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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

 

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

July 5, 2016 -- Santa Monica firefighter and potential political candidate Dominick Bei cannot serve on the City Council unless he quits his day job, a city attorney says.

Deputy City Attorney Isabel Birrueta detailed this opinion in an 11-page letter dated June 27 to Andrea F. Hattemer, attorney for Bei, who announced his intention to run for council last month.

“Bei’s service on the [City Council] while remaining a City employee would create actual or perceived conflicts between his responsibility as a City employee and his responsibilities as a council member,” Birrueta wrote.

Hattemer told The Lookout on Monday that neither she nor her client had received the letter.

Bei's argument is that while there is a California Government Code regulation specifically stating a local agency employee can’t serve on that agency’s legislative board, the issue is not addressed in the Santa Monica Charter, so there is a conflict and the State law is not applicable.

Birrueta agreed that cities like Santa Monica with a charter are given independence on various issues, but that is not the case when a charter is “silent” on an issue.

She cited a recent case in the Bay Area city of Vallejo where a landowners group sued the local government over the raising of water rates, saying it violated implied contracts.

State law does not allow implied contracts, while the Vallejo Charter says nothing about them.

“If a city's charter is silent as to a particular matter, even one concerning a municipal affair, courts have opined that the matter will be subject to the general laws of this state,” wrote a California Court of Appeal panel in a opinion issued last year.

Birrueta also referenced a section of the Santa Monica Charter that states City employees cannot engage in off-hours activities that create a real or perceived conflict.

“It is evident that conflicts would arise where a City employee also serves on the City Council,” Birrueta wrote.

She gave an example that if Bei filed a grievance as a firefighter, he must first consult with his immediate supervisor under the terms of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the City and the firefighters.

But council members are restricted to speaking with the city manager, who is the ultimate authority on appeal, regarding this type of employee issue.

“Such a restriction would conflict with the terms of the MOU,” Birrueta wrote.

“Also, the city manager’s independent judgment and Bei’s responsibility, in his capacity as a council member, could be questioned given the [council] votes on whether to hire or fire the city manager.”

She further wrote that there would be conflicts when it came to the budget and renegotiating the MOU, regardless of the fact that Bei would likely recuse himself from voting on those issues.

Bei told The Lookout last month that he believed “the law is clear” showing that he could serve on the council and remain a city firefighter. He will have to determine whether he wants to continue this debate in the court system.

There is at least one other option--Bei could quit his job as a firefighter, at least with the Santa Monica department.

Editor's note: Original leade of this story has been changed from "If Santa Monica firefighter Dominick Bei wants to run for City Council, he will have to quit his day job, a city attorney says." is changed to say

Santa Monica firefighter and potential political candidate Dominick Bei cannot serve on the City Council unless he quits his day job, a city attorney says.


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