Atwater's city attorney of more than five years has submitted a resignation letter, the attorney confirmed on Thursday, the latest shakeup in a city with a divided City Council.
The letter cites "recent events and changes in management priorities" as reasons that led City Attorney Tom Terpstra to "re-evaluate our firm's relationship" with Atwater. The letter also gave a 30-day notice.
Terpstra's firm, Terpstra Henderson, works with a number of Central San Joaquin Valley cities. He's been city attorney for Ripon for 25 years, he said.
"Atwater is a challenging position for anybody," he told the Sun-Star on Thursday. "There's a lot of challenges they face. It's a demanding job and we felt that, at this time, it's time to move on."
The city attorney position reports directly to the City Council. Interim City Manager Art de Werk said he's been tasked with presenting options to the council on how to replace Terpstra.
Some cities contract with a firm but don't have an attorney in a City Hall office, while other cities have an attorney on-site either full or part time. De Werk said he plans to recommend whichever shakes out to be economical without skipping out on quality.
Atwater has struggled financially since the Great Recession and housing market crash of about a dozen years ago. The city declared a common-law fiscal emergency, which is a precursor to bankruptcy, in October 2012. It's also operating with a more than $2 million general fund debt.
Atwater has seen a tumultuous past year with a split City Council repeatedly butting heads over the next city manager.
"It's not surprising at all that when you have a divided council there's instability," de Werk said. "It's not at all a surprise."
Terpstra takes with him "institutional knowledge" that will be difficult to replace, de Werk said. "The more I work here, the more confidence I have in the staff," he said. "I think we'll pull through."
Councilman Brian Raymond said he was surprised to get the email that said Terpstra is resigning. He said he'd support whichever replacement for Terpstra makes the most financial sense.
"He helped Atwater to navigate through years of financially troubled times," he said. "He was a good colleague and became an even better friend. I wish him the best in the future and thank him for his service."