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Gillig Is High-Profile City Attorney

March 02, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

After only 10 months on the job, Oxnard City Atty. Gary L. Gillig has made his presence felt.

His predecessor was known to doze at the city's lengthy council meetings, but not the 42-year-old Gillig. He issues unsolicited opinions, cracks jokes, answers questions from the audience and, to express disapproval, sighs loudly and casts his eyes skyward.

But for all the theatrics--"He emotes a little bit too much," said council member Ann Johs--Gillig has sparked substantial changes in city business. Besides dismantling the fragile assessment district to promote Oxnard's downtown, Gillig has successfully recommended changes in everything from the way memos are circulated to the way members of advisory groups are selected.

Some council members, Johs among them, wish Gillig would pipe up less often. She sees an alarming trend toward "closed government" in his decisions that favored closed sessions and confidential memos.

"I think he's very enthusiastic . . . and he tries to do what we want," said Johs. "But sometimes he gets too zealous."

In one case, the Ventura County district attorney's office agreed.

In August, the district attorney's office concluded that Gillig was wrong when he approved private council meetings for discussion of longstanding squabbles between City Manager David Mora, City Clerk Mabi Plisky and Geraldine Furr, presently a council member but then city treasurer.

By acting on Gillig's advice, the council violated the Brown Act, the state law requiring open meetings, ruled Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury. Gillig maintains that he was in the right, but the council has not conducted closed meetings on the topic since.

Gillig, who came to Oxnard from Pasadena in May, describes his approach as "preventative law" and said he relishes the opportunity to use it as he conducts an audit, expected to take three to five years, of all city ordinances and contracts.

Defends His Style

"I've worked with other councils where they were happy for me to just sit there and look pretty," he said. "But the Oxnard City Council has indicated an interest in minimizing their exposure to litigation, and I've been encouraged to speak up and intervene whenever they're on . . . a precipice."

Council member Manuel Lopez said he generally approves of Gillig's intervention. However, he said he regrets Gillig's recommendation in January that only the mayor--not the entire council--appoint members to the city's citizen advisory groups, which advise the city on such issues as cultural affairs, the municipal golf course and policies on rent control for the owners of mobile home.

The decision gives the mayor "dictatorial powers," Lopez complained. "How can you beat him? Hell, he'll have appointed everyone in every CAG in the city." But Lopez said he doesn't fault Gillig for "just interpreting the law."

But critics say there is a fine line between offering a legal interpretation and making a decision that rightfully rests with the City Council.

Glendale City Atty. Frank R. Manzano, past president of the City Attorneys Assn. of Los Angeles County, who is familiar with Gillig's work, faults Gillig for getting "involved in the discussion to reach political decisions."

"When you're sitting in a council chambers, you're not the sixth council member," he said.

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