Atwater must find new attorney

Law firm expected to help city with fiscal woes, in limited role

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 25, 2012 

ATWATER -- In the midst of the city's financial quandary, officials are starting their search for a new attorney.

During a special meeting last week at which the City Council considered declaring a fiscal emergency, City Attorney Jose Sanchez of Meyers Nave law firm said he was resigning from his post.

Meyers Nave will drop the position around mid-October or when the city finds another attorney to fill the role.

During a closed-session meeting Monday night, the council met to discuss the opening, but no details were made available by the Sun-Star's deadline.

Councilman Craig Mooneyham said he expects Meyers Nave to see the city through its financial issues, but much of that work will be done with the firm working in the role of special counsel.

"We are a fairly small community, but we are looking for an attorney who has the breadth of experience and can handle most of our day-to-day needs instead of contracting it out," he said.

When Sanchez made the announcement last week, he said his firm is focusing on restructuring its services to "overcome this challenge" and will limit its role to help the city manage costs.

"We are resigning as city attorney in order to focus our firm's services on those specific legal services needed by the city in this crisis and to allow the City Council to use another attorney or firm to focus on the day-to-day city legal work," Sanchez said.

What the city is trying to overcome is a general fund deficit of more than $3 million, which is coupled with deficits in the city's water and sanitation funds.

At the start of Monday's regular-session meeting, Mayor Joan Faul said the city is working toward repairing the financial situation.

"The City Council is working diligently to balance the entire general fund deficit," Faul said. "We have directed our labor negotiators and our staff to cut over $1 million from the city's nonpersonnel expenses, and over $2 million from our labor expenses and service contractors in the next two weeks."

She urged employees to work with the city "immediately and diligently" to minimize layoffs and avoid potential legal intervention.

In addition to the city's efforts to identify cuts in the general fund, officials are working toward increasing fees, such as building permits, to cover more expenses.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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