The Livingston City Council abruptly fired its city attorney during a closed session Tuesday night after almost two years of service. In the same breath they hired a new attorney.
No explanation for either action was offered to the public.
"It was a drastic move," said Councilwoman Margarita Aguilar. She said she was simply "surprised."
While the council's actions may have been unexpected, Malathy Subraman-ian, the dismissed city attorney, was let go because her legal opinion was blocking a majority on the council from passing a controversial water and sewer rate increase and because of her choice of an unqualified investigator regarding accusations against a council member and a former mayor, said Mayor Daniel Varela.
She repeatedly told council, he said, that there was only one way to move forward with passing a rate increase: a four to one vote or a unanimous vote.
Varela said that he discovered at a recent League of California Cities conference in San Diego that the city could pass a rate increase resolution instead of the stalled ordinance. All they need to pass the resolution for rate increases, which were read for the first time Tuesday night, was a simple majority.
Immediately after the closed session, the council introduced the first reading of a resolution that will be voted upon at the July 7 council meeting and may enable the council to increase water and sewer rates with a simple majority.
Council members Aguilar and Rodrigo Espinoza had been opposed to the rate increases.
Espinoza said the firing of the city attorney was a political move. Not only did he not know who put the closed session item on the agenda, but he didn't even know about it until he saw the agenda.
The new city attorney, Jonathan Hobbs, did not have a hand in writing the resolutions on rate increases. He works for Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard in Sacramento.
The city also took up the findings of the internal investigator hired by Subramanian at the request of the city. The findings and recommendation of the investigation into wrongdoing by Councilman Espinoza and former Mayor Gurpal Samra were not adopted by the council with one exception: a resolution to reaffirm a city code that bars council members from directing city staff.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or firstname.lastname@example.org.