City of Riverside Charter Change and the City Attorney’s Office

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

I have previously written about the City of Riverside City Attorney’s Office.  In today’s Press-Enterprise, there is an article about proposed Charter changes that would limit the office of the City Manager.   The article is written by Alicia Robinson and is titled Charter changes would set limits on City Manager.  I do not know where it was located in the physical newspaper.

The section regarding the City Attorney’s Office is very interesting:

The other change removes the city manager’s authority over employees of the . . . city attorney. . . .

City Attorney Greg Priamos, who proposed the change, would only speak generally about it and would not comment on whether it was a response to a specific incident.

The charter now lets the city manager approve or disapprove hiring decisions of the city clerk and attorney. Priamos said he doesn’t think that matches the intent of the charter to keep those three positions independent.

“Having the city manager having any influence whatsoever on the personnel decisions of the city attorney can … impair the city attorney’s ability to provide independent, unbiased legal advice and counsel to my client,” which is the city as represented by the council, Priamos said.

. . .

. . . Barbara Purvis, a retired assistant city attorney . . . said she is puzzled as to why a charter change is needed. But city documents suggest former City Manager Brad Hudson was likely the impetus for the proposal.

According to documents released in response to a California Public Records Act request, former Deputy City Attorney Rachele [sic] Sterling filed an internal complaint in February alleging Hudson accessed her city emails because of her political support of Councilman Paul Davis, and because he wanted to know what city employees had told her about “improper and unethical practices in the public works department.”

In March, Sterling wrote to the council detailing alleged improprieties in awarding contracts, saying employees were directed to steer work to Hudson’s friends. Hudson and the city have denied the allegations and a city-commissioned outside legal investigation found no wrongdoing. Sterling was fired in May.

The city has never explained why Hudson was looking at the emails of one of Priamos’ subordinates, and officials have not clarified whether that could be a violation of attorney-client privilege. When asked in August, Hudson refused to say why he was looking at Sterling’s emails, but in documents from the outside law firm’s investigation, Hudson said he had heard complaints that Sterling was interfering in public works matters.

The report noted that Hudson “functioned as a supervisor” over Sterling and thus had the power under city policy to review her emails. Priamos said attorney-client privilege prevents him from discussing the email incident.

Purvis said it would be “totally improper” for anyone outside the city attorney’s office to review its employee emails. She’d like an explanation of the proposed change, she said, because the charter shouldn’t be altered without a compelling reason.

As background, Raychele Sterling was my immediate predecessor at the City of San Bernardino.  She returned to the City of Riverside in 2001, opening up the position of Deputy City Attorney in San Bernardino.  She was always very helpful to me both in the brief hour or so we discussed the cases and matters I was inheriting from her in San Bernardino, or to point me in the right direction in the Riverside City Attorney’s Office, or if I had a public works question.  I last spoke to her last year, in person, at Riverside City Hall, before her firing.  I have not spoken to her since, and I have no inside knowledge of what happened in Riverside beyond what has been reported in the Press-Enterprise.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find the charter committees proposals online, so I cannot explain the actual changes to the existing charter.  The committee will present its proposal to Council on January 24, 2012.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St. Suite 517
Redlands CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 296-6708

The Riverside City Attorney and the City Attorney’s Office of the City of Riverside, California

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

This is a first in an occasional series regarding the City Attorneys of the Inland Empire.  Most City Attorneys are not in the forefront of every day politics, and are largely unknown to the general public.  This is not an accident.  When I was a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, I asked a former Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, then the Assistant City Attorney of another Inland Empire city, if the City Attorney of that city actually existed.  The Assistant City Attorney confirmed that the City Attorney did, indeed, exist.

The City of Riverside is by far the largest City in the Inland Empire, or as the Press-Enterprise inexplicably calls it, Inland Southern California.   The State of California Department of Finance  January 1, 2011 population estimate for Riverside, California is 306,779.  Riverside is a full-service municipality, with a police and fire departmentt, a museum, and an electric utility.

Riverside is a charter city.  The Riverside City Charter, Article VII, Section 700 states that “there shall be a City Attorney . . . who shall be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the City Council.

The Riverside City Charter continues, in section 702 to state the City Attorney’s duties, eligibility, and powers:

To become eligible for City Attorney, the person appointed shall be an attorney-at-law duly licensed as such under the laws of the State of California, and shall have been engaged in the practice of law for at least five years prior to appointment. The City Attorney shall have power and may be required to:
(a) Represent and advise the City Council and all City officers in all matters of law pertaining to their offices.
(b) Represent and appear for the City in any or all actions or proceedings in which the City is concerned or is a party, and represent and appear for any City officer or employee, or former City officer or employee, in any or all actions and proceedings in which any such officer or employee is concerned or is a party for any act arising out of such officer’s or employee’s employment or by reason of such officer’s or employee’s official capacity.
(c) Attend all regular meetings of the City Council and give advice or opinion in writing whenever requested to do so by the City Council or by any of the boards or officers of the City.
(d) Approve the form of all contracts made by and all bonds given to the City, endorsing the City Attorney’s approval thereon in writing.
(e) Prepare any and all proposed ordinances or resolutions for the City and amendments thereto.
(f) Surrender to the City Attorney’s successor all books, papers, files and documents pertaining to the City’s affairs.
The City Council shall have control of all legal business and proceedings and may employ other attorneys to take charge of any litigation or matter or to assist the City Attorney therein.

The Riverside City Charter further defines the City Attorney’s powers in section 704(b) regarding the Controller:

(b) Supervise and be responsible for the disbursement of all moneys and have control of all expenditures to insure that budget appropriations are not exceeded; audit all purchase orders before issuance; audit and approve, before payment, all bills, invoices, payrolls, demands or charges against the City government and, with the advice of the City Attorney, when necessary, determine the regularity, legality and correctness of such claims, demands or charges. [Emphasis added].

Riverside City Charter section 806 regarding the Planning Commission mentions the City Attorney:

The City Engineer, City Attorney, and Planning Director or their assistants, may meet with and participate in the discussions of the Planning Commission but shall not have a vote.

The Riverside City Attorney is mentioned in section 1113 regarding an independent audit:

As soon as practicable after the end of the fiscal year, a final audit and report shall be submitted by such accountant to the City Council, one copy thereof to be distributed to each member, one to the City Manager, Controller, Treasurer, and City Attorney, respectively . . . .

Riverside Municipal Code section 2.08.020(D) creates the City Attorney’s Office:

The following departments and department heads are established:

. . .
D. The City Attorney’s Office, the head of which shall be the City Attorney;

Collectively, the powers of the City Attorney and the City Attorney’s Office derive from the Charter and the Riverside Municipal Code.  The City’s website is not particularly informative about the City Attorney’s Office.  At one time, the website had an organization chart, and information about the individual deputies and assistants.  I will summarize what is on there now: a recap of the Attorney’s duties above and a mention that the City Attorney is also General Counsel to the City of Riverside Redevelopment Agency; the standard disclaimer that the City Attorney’s Office  “does not provide legal advice to the public,” that the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t prosecute state misdemeanors, and contact information for Code Enforcement.  There is also a link to a document prepared for the 100th anniversary of the City Attorney’s Office detailing the history of the City Attorney’s Office and the City Attorneys of Riverside.


It is in that history that the average person can find information about the current City Attorney of Riverside:

Gregory Priamos received his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of
Southern California and his Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School.
Before coming to Riverside he was a senior associate with Burke, Williams & Sorenson, a
municipal law firm in Los Angeles. While at Burke, Williams & Sorenson, he represented
numerous public entities.
Mr. Priamos began his career as an Assistant City Attorney III with the City of Riverside in
1993. In 1995, he became the Supervising Deputy City Attorney in charge of the Litigation
Services Section. On July 24, 2001, he was appointed Interim City Attorney by the City Council
and began his duties on August 3, 2001. On July 23, 2002, Mr. Priamos was appointed City

The State Bar of California’s website states that the Riverside City Attorney was admitted on December 7, 1988.

In the 2011-2012 preliminary budget, the latest available online at the time of this post, the requested 2011-2012 budget for the City Attorney’s Office was $3,451,041  The total personnel is 26.5 positions.  That consists of seven Legal Support Specialists, four Legal Assistants, eleven Deputy City Attorneys, one Legal Services Manager, and two Supervising Deputy City Attorneys, the City Attorney, and one half time Law Clerk.

Additionally, the City retains outside legal services, which can be found in the preliminary budget.  The requested amounts for FY 2011-2012 are $20,000 for Human Resources, $4,000 for Community Development-Planning Admin, $5,000 for Community Development Planning-General Planning, $10,000 for Community Development – Code Enforcement, $80,000 for the Police Department, $5,000 for Development/Development Administration, $2,500 for Development/ Development-Redevelopment, $1,500 for Development/Development-Housing, $8,000 for Development/Arlington Project Area, $8,000 for the Casa Blanca Project Area, $8,000 for the Magnolia Center Project Area, $20,735 for “Univ Corr/Syc Canyon” Project Area, $24,000 for the Downtown Airport Project Area, $6,750 for the Development / La Sierra/Arlanza Project Area, $15,000 for the Arlington Project Area, $5,000 for the Auto Center Project Area, $14,800 for the Development/Casa Blanca Project Area, $12,500 for the Development / Magnolia Center Project Area, $17,250 for the “Development / Univ Corr/Syc Canyon,” $49,250 for “Development / Downtown Airport Project Area,” $13,250 for the “Development / La Sierra/Arlanza Proj Area,” $25,000 for “Public Utilities-Admin / Pub Util Admin-Mgmt Service,” $25,000 for Public Utilities-Admin / Legislative & Regulatory Risk, $629,000 [sic] for “Public Utilities-Electric / PU Elec Power Supply Operation,” $155,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / Water-Production & Operations,” $25,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / PU Water Engineering,” $125,000 for “Public Utilities-Water / Water-Water Resources,” and $10,000 for “Public Works / Public Works-Sewer Sys-Admin.”

By my calculations, that’s $119,000 for General Fund Departments, $203,535 for Redevelopment, and $994,000 for public utilities, for a total of $1,316,535 preliminarily budgeted for outside counsel, on top of  the $3,451,041  requested by the City Attorney’s Office. That’s assuming no department is using the professional services line item to cover outside legal services.

The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.

A: 300 E. State St. Suite 517

Redlands CA 92373-5235
T: (909) 708-6055