PALM SPRINGS – Less than two years after the City Council approved the new in-house position of city attorney and an associated budget, the city has reverted to hiring a contract attorney.
In 2016, the City Council made the decision to change City Attorney services from a contractual outside firm, to an in-house position. Over several months, the City Council, through a professional municipal recruitment firm, conducted a search for qualified candidates which was led by a Council Subcommittee comprised of Mayor Robert Moon and Councilmember Geoff Kors followed by interviews with the entire City Council. Kors was also part of a subcommittee that recommended going back to a contract attorney.
Kotkin served for eight years as city attorney in Indio and had nearly 25 years of municipal legal experience. He had also worked for 11 years at the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, prosecuting fraud and public integrity cases, working closely with the Riverside County Grand Jury.
Kotkin is a 1988 graduate of Haverford College in Pennsylvania. He received his Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991.
The move to hire a contract attorney comes after former City Attorney Kotkin abruptly announced his resignation effective Feb. 28 reportedly to get married. He officially gave the city less than 10 days’ notice, which is unusual for a department head, especially a city attorney, according to some Coachella Valley elected officials.
Kotkin, some sources told Uken Report, allegedly considered himself the sixth member of the City Council and overstepped.
There is also a great deal of legal power in City Hall. City Manager David H. Ready has his law degree. Mayor Pro Tem Geoff Kors and Councilmember Christy Holstege earned their law degrees from Stanford Law.
Peter King is still serving as assistant city attorney. However, he will be leaving soon because his contract following the departure of Kotkin was for three months.
The City Council on April 3 approved appointing Jeffrey S. Ballinger as the city attorney and approved an agreement with Best, Best and Krieger LLP (BBK). One of Ballinger’s first high-profile moves was to release the findings of the investigation into Mayor Robert Moon’s surveillance techniques.
Ballinger is present at City Hall two days per week, Wednesday and Thursday, providing general City Attorney legal services “in-house” as part of the agreement.
Ballinger is a partner and a member of BBK’s Executive Committee. He currently serves as the city attorney for the cities of San Juan Capistrano and Fontana, and is the assistant city attorney for the city of Indian Wells. Ballinger has experience in municipal law including expertise in the Brown Act, the Political Reform Act, the Public Records Act, legal ethics, contracting and other transactions related to Municipalities, according to a staff report.
In 2017, when the City Council approved the new in-house position of city attorney and an associated budget, actual expenditures (salaries and benefits) for the new Legal Office (excluding litigation expenses) was $588,133 in the 2017/2018 fiscal year. The amount was equivalent to $49,011 per month, and included the following positions: city attorney, assistant city attorney, paralegal, executive administrative assistant, and a temporary law clerk, according to a staff report.
The legal fees for city attorney services through BBK include a retainer fee of $27,900 per month equivalent to $334,800 annually, and will include basic legal services. Other specialty legal services performed by BBK will be additional costs.
It’s not the first time the city has turned to BBK for legal services.
The City Council previously approved an agreement for supplement legal services with
BBK on March 15, 2017, relating to Government Code Section 1090 issues, or conflict of interest issues.
More recently, on Jan. 24, 2018, the City Council approved a second agreement with BBK to assist then-City Attorney Kotkin on a wide range of transactional and litigation services for the city, according to the staff report.
BBK specializes in municipal law and has offices located throughout the state including offices in the Coachella Valley, Riverside, and an office in Washington D.C.
BBK currently serves as city attorney for the cities of Coachella, Indian Wells, and Palm Desert.
BBK also serves as legal counsel for Desert Water Agency, and for other southern California cities including Fontana, San Juan Capistrano, and Santa Ana. Attorneys from BBK already provide the City with legal services particularly in the areas of planning, zoning, land-use, Public Records Act requests, cannabis related matters, and litigation at “outside counsel” rates.
- Jeffrey S. Ballinger: Best Best & Krieger
- Palm Springs City Hall: Shutterstock