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NEWS ANALYSIS : Wanted: Cool Legal Counsel for Hot Issues : Government: Ousted city attorney Robert M. Myers appears to be a tough act to follow. The city hopes to pick his successor by April.

February 07, 1993|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA — A personal ad: Seaside community recovering from messy breakup of intense attorney-client relationship seeks heaven-sent legal mate who has it all--but doesn't flaunt it--for $110,000-a-year job as city attorney. Send resume, including liberal litmus test on recycled paper, to Santa Monica City Hall.

After a decent period of mourning the loss of a uniquely symbiotic and ultimately explosive attorney-client relationship, the Santa Monica City Council has launched a search for a city attorney.

From the official job description being circulated by a professional recruiter, it looks like it will not be easy to fill Robert M. Myers' size 12 shoes.

Candidates must be willing "to expand the edges of the envelope" of the law, while maintaining a low profile on high-profile issues. They must be politically astute, but not political. They must be aggressive and independent, but also team players and closemouthed advocates.

"We want someone who will give us the straight poop, whose judgment we trust, who will not toady to us, but will do what we want," said Councilman Paul Rosenstein. "It's going to take a miracle worker to fill the bill."

Or if such a miracle worker is unavailable, it sounds like Bob Myers in a muzzle might fit the bill.

Parts of the brochure, prepared after consulting council members for their wish lists, read like the ups and downs of life with Myers, whose reign as city attorney ended in ruin last fall.

He was fired, officially for insubordination, but also because he had become a political liability to his council allies due to his resistance to a crackdown on the homeless.

Some of the council's battles with Myers were embarrassingly public. For the new attorney, the job description calls for someone willing to keep differences of opinions with the council behind closed doors.

"The council is saying, 'Give us the good parts of Bob Myers without the downsides,' " said Rich Perry, whose search firm, Hughes, Heiss & Associates, is combing the state for the perfect match for Santa Monica. "I think he's going to be tough to follow."

Perry is no newcomer to the corridors of City Hall. He was the "headhunter" who brought Police Chief James T. Butts to Santa Monica.

Initially, Perry told the council that several factors, including the political climate of the city, might make the city attorney search difficult.

For instance, the council describes an ideal applicant as someone comfortable being an advocate for specific issues--housing, social programs and rent control--that are rarely high-priority matters for city attorneys in smaller California municipalities, Perry said.

"Some people absolutely have no interest at all (in the job), because the styles and values of the community are contrary to their own philosophy," Perry said. "Others are very interested."

Now, as inquiries are starting to roll in from ads, Perry said he is optimistic that he can find a good match for Santa Monica. "I'll know it when I see it," Perry said.

The first deadline for applicants is Feb. 19, with a final decision expected in April.

Council members, even the two who are not allied with the tenants' rights group that dominates city politics, share Perry's optimism that a good candidate will be found. During Myers' tenure, members of the minority often complained that the city attorney left them out of the loop.

This time, the job brochure states that the ideal candidate "treats all seven council members equally."

Until council newcomer Asha Greenberg put up a fuss, the words "public safety" were absent from the first draft of the city attorney job description, a remarkable omission in light of the furor over crime and the homeless that contributed to Myers' downfall.

Greenberg said she insisted that advocacy and experience in public safety be added because that was a key concern of Santa Monica residents.

"Santa Monica residents feel we have been deficient in that area, and the Police Department feels we have been deficient in that area," Greenberg said.

Watching on the sidelines as he works on public interest projects and contemplates his future, Myers said he found some of the council's stated job requirements to be contradictory.

"If they want a low-profile city attorney, they should abandon high-profile issues," he said.

The one requirement council members seem united on is that the new city attorney know who's boss--they are.

Mayor Judy Abdo said the council will probably have to compromise on some matters. But even if the daunting list of desired traits scares off some qualified candidates, she said, council members thought it important to make their preferences clear.

"We're a famous city with a famous city attorney, so there's a certain amount of reluctance on some people's part (to apply)," Abdo said. "But we don't want those people anyway. We want someone who will (read about the job) and say 'Wow!' "

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