After the interim city attorney for the City of Solvang backed out after four days – citing a conflict of interest – the Solvang City Council hired Chip Wullbrandt of Price, Postel and Parma LLP at their special closed session meeting on Monday, June 17.
“This is an important step in bringing transparency and fiscal accountability in local government for the people of Solvang,” said Mayor Ryan Toussaint in a press release.
During public comment before the closed session, former councilman Ed Skytt commented he hopes whomever the council chooses is successful.
“People are getting a little upset in what’s been going on. You do not have confidence with a lot of people. You need to get your act together,” Skytt said.
The first interim city attorney was the firm of Best, Best & Krieger. Officials have not described the nature of the conflict of interest. Longtime City Attorney Dave Fleishman submitted his resignation in late May, two months after an odd attempt at firing him in a closed council meeting that was called and then canceled without any discussion. That meeting lasted less than 10 minutes after Toussaint, who had called for the session, failed to show up, leaving others perplexed.
Fleishman’s departure ends 21 years of service to Solvang with his law partner, Roy Hanley, from the Atascadero-based firm of Hanley & Fleishman LLP.
The council members declined June 7 to comment on their reasoning for releasing Fleishman before his resignation took effect, saying only that it was a personnel matter.
“The City Council majority is entitled to and should be served by a city attorney whose ethical standards and commitment to the rule of law more closely match their own,” Fleishman said in his resignation letter.
Mayor Ryan Toussaint declined to comment at that time as well, saying again it was a personnel matter.
With the city attorney gone, the institutional memory for Solvang city government will be short due a relatively new City Council and a new city manager.
The City Council also appointed a Special City Auditor, Thomas Widroe, with a 4 – 1 vote with Councilwoman Waite dissenting. The council stated they are exercising Article VII of Solvang’s City Charter (https://www.cityofsolvang.com
“This is a necessary step to improve City services and ensure Solvang’s sustainable future while retaining its cultural uniqueness,” Mayor Toussaint believes.
Waite disagreed with hiring a special auditor. Though she has no opinion on Mr. Widroe, Waite believes some of City Manager David Gassaway’s responsibilities include those envisioned for the new Special City Auditor position. Waite also noted that Gassaway has only been the City Manager for a few weeks and needs time to get acquainted.
“I think it’s an unnecessary expenditure for the city and premature,” Waite said.
The city has already launched the search for the new contract city attorney, with arequest for proposals released last week, and submissions due July 10.
Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully and Santa Ynez Valley Star Publisher Raiza Giorgi contributed to this report.