‘Zero trust’: Mayor, councilman ask city manager to resign | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘Zero trust’: Mayor, councilman ask city manager to resign

Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Two South Lake Tahoe City Council members called for the resignation of City Manager David Jinkens during a special meeting on Tuesday morning for his alleged lack of oversight over hundreds of thousand of dollars the city spends annually for outside legal help.

Mayor Jerry Birdwell, joined by Councilman Bill Crawford, called for Jinkens to step down after alleging the city manager did not follow council members’ instructions to inform them when the city hires outside attorneys, a claim Jinkens disputes.

City code requires council approval for any outside attorney’s fees more than $30,000, and the council gave Jinkens additional instructions during a November 2007 closed session to inform them when outside legal services are being retained by the city, Birdwell said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Jinkens said there are problems with tracking fees paid to outside attorneys, but said he would not resign in response to the council members’ request.

Jinkens said he felt he has followed the directive given to him by the council at the November 2007 meeting.

The city has spent almost $850,000 since October 2007 on fees for outside attorneys and typically spends about $500,000 to $700,000 a year on those services, according to a presentation by city attorneys Jacqueline Mittelstadt and Patrick Enright.

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Currently, 10 percent of outside legal fees for the city are contracted through the city attorney’s office, while the other 90 percent are contracted independently by city departments, according to the presentation.

A payment of more than $3,000 to an outside attorney to attend a City Council meeting where the attorney did not provide any comment, a more than $69,000 attorney’s bill that came from a “non-departmental” fund from which outside attorney’s fees are sometimes paid, as well as more than $125,000 paid to Richard, Watson and Gershon over a five-month period for consultation regarding a recent suit against the city by Area Transit Management Inc. were some of the major concerns mentioned by Birdwell in calling for Jinkens’ resignation.

“At that rate, we could have hired another attorney to be on staff,” Birdwell said.

Charges to the city for an outside attorney’s review of a single e-mail, as well as Jinkens’ hiring of attorney Linda Tripoli to provide advice regarding a challenge by the city to the reinstatement of police officer Johnny Poland, were concerns expressed by Councilman Bill Crawford in joining Birdwell’s request.

The council should have been told about the hiring of Tripoli, Crawford said.

Both Birdwell and Crawford contend Jinkens has not been forthcoming with the council about outside attorney fees and has been evasive when asked.

“There’s too much darkness when there should be light,” Crawford said following Tuesday’s meeting.

Birdwell described the city’s non-departmental fund as a “slush fund” and said he has “no confidence” in the city manager at Tuesday’s meeting. The attorney fees brought up at the meeting may be just the “tip of the iceberg,” Birdwell said. “Your trust with me is zero, to be honest with you,” Birdwell told Jinkens.

The outside attorney fees in question have been discussed with the City Council during closed sessions, according to Jinkens, who said he would continue to report to the City Council in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

The majority of City Council members expressed support for Jinkens following the meeting.

Council members Kathay Lovell and Bruce Grego said they agreed with a statement by Councilman Hal Cole at the meeting that the fees in question do not represent mismanagement by Jinkens.

The issue of outside attorney fees would be alleviated by policy changes recommended by the city attorneys on Tuesday, Cole said.

The council voted unanimously to pursue Mittelstadt and Enright’s recommendations, that included the implementation of consistent billing requirements for all outside attorneys, the creation of a single fund for all outside attorney fees, the filing of regular reports on the fees paid to outside attorneys, a requirement that all requests for outside legal counsel be routed through the city attorney’s office, and the purchase of teleconferencing technology to cut down on travel reimbursements for outside attorneys.

It’s unclear how much the measures will save the city, according to the attorneys, and the city will still require outside attorneys in some instances, according to the attorneys and several council members.

Lovell said the outside attorney fees in question at Tuesday’s meeting were discussed during closed session. She wasn’t sure why Birdwell and Crawford claimed that they weren’t. “Maybe they had forgotten,” Lovell said.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Birdwell said he isn’t convinced the attorneys’ recommendations about outside attorney fees would resolve his issues with the outside attorney fees and Jinkens.

“I don’t feel they will be relieved by the action because they haven’t been in the past,” Birdwell said.

The mayor said there are additional issues with Jinkens that led him to call for his resignation, but declined to speak about them publicly.

“There are other matters I will take up privately with the City Council,” Birdwell said.