Turnover and turmoil at the top levels of city government are continuing in Solvang.
The City Council is set to meet Monday, June 17 at 5 p.m. to hire an interim city attorney just a week after it hired a different firm — which backed out four days later, citing an unspecified conflict of interest.
The recent turnover includes three new City Council members since January and the retirement of longtime City Manager Brad Vidro in December. City Attorney Dave Fleishman submitted his resignation in late May.
Vidro was succeeded for several months by an interim city manager and then replaced by David Gassaway, who started as city manager in early May.
The council’s agenda for tonight’s closed session calls for the appointments of another interim city attorney as well as an interim city auditor. The results of that session will be published at www.santaynezvalleystar.com.
”The Legal Services Agreement executed as a result of the appointment of the interim City Attorney on June 7, 2019, had to be terminated on June 11, 2019, due to an unanticipated conflict of interest,” according to the agenda.
The first interim city attorney was the firm of Best, Best & Krieger. Officials have not described the nature of the conflict of interest.
The firm was hired June 7, a week after Fleishman submitted his resignation, even though he had promised to stay on the job until July 31.
However, when the council members met in closed session June 7 they excused him from the remainder of his service and hired Best, Best & Krieger.
Fleishman submitted his resignation May 29, two months after an odd attempt at firing him in a closed council meeting that was called and then canceled without any discussion.
The vote on the afternoon of June 7 to release Fleishman early was 3-1, with Councilwoman Karen Waite dissenting and Councilman Robert Clarke absent due to a prior commitment.
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. They said they were hiring Best, Best & Krieger to provide interim city attorney services while they searched for a permanent city attorney.
The announcement of Fleishman’s resignation came May 29 after the council had met the previous night for what included a special closed session involving evaluation of the city attorney.
“Notwithstanding the nearly universally positive performance evaluation session at last night’s council meeting, it is clear to me on a number of levels that this is the right course of action for me and my law partner,” Fleishman said in his resignation letter.
“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,” he added.
Mayor Ryan Toussaint declined to comment at that time as well, saying it was a personnel matter.
In March, a special meeting called by Toussaint listed a closed session about public employee discipline, dismissal or release of the city attorney. That night’s agenda also called for appointment of an interim city attorney and special city auditor.
But the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes after Toussaint, who had called for the session, failed to show up, leaving others perplexed.
“That meeting came as a surprise to me, to say the least,” Fleishman said.
Solvang was involved as a defendant in “almost no litigation during (his) firm’s tenure as city attorney, something unheard of in modern municipal government,” Fleishman said.
“It has been our privilege to serve dozens of Solvang mayors and council members over our nearly 21 years in the city attorney position, a period of time equal to nearly two-thirds of Solvang’s entire existence as a city,” Fleishman said.
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 current Solvang council’s longest-serving member is Toussaint, who joined in late 2016. The next longest-serving member is Karen Waite, who was appointed to the council in late 2017.
Two others — Chris Djernaes and Robert Clarke — were elected in November, just six months ago, and Daniel Johnson was later appointed to fill the vacancy created when Toussaint was elected mayor.
Fleishman continues to serve as city attorney for Pismo Beach. In 2017, he ended a stint as city attorney for Guadalupe.
Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully and Santa Ynez Valley Star Publisher Raiza Giorgi contributed to this report.