Attorney Michael Gatzke will continue representing the county in three lawsuits challenging the conversion of El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to a commercial airport despite a symbolic protest vote Tuesday by two supervisors.
Supervisor Tom Wilson, who angered some South County constituents for voting two weeks ago to confirm Gatzke's contract, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade his colleagues for a new vote.
Assistant County Counsel Jim Meade said a new vote would be meaningless because of the previous action, in which Wilson joined three supervisors in upholding Gatzke's hiring by County Counsel Laurence Watson. Supervisor Todd Spitzer cast the dissenting vote.
A frustrated Wilson opted instead Tuesday to lodge a protest vote against Gatzke, joined by Spitzer, after it became clear that the board majority wouldn't allow a second contract vote. Under state law, outside legal contracts must be approved by a four-fifths vote of the board.
"I believe we have an obligation to our constituents to vote on a contract that has never been before the Board of Supervisors," said Wilson, who characterized his vote two weeks ago as a support of Watson, not of Gatzke.
El Toro airport opponents said later Tuesday that they don't intend to drop the matter.
"There's no question that this is a situation that demands attention and most probably attention in the courts," said Bill Kogerman, executive director of Taxpayers for Responsible Planning, who oppose a commercial airport at El Toro. "We believe the county has one more time violated state law and that the hiring of Gatzke is illegal."
The tug of war erupted three weeks ago after Spitzer questioned the legality of Gatzke's hiring by Watson to represent the county on three lawsuits challenging El Toro's airport conversion. Watson said he got the authority from a board vote in 1994 to expand Gatzke's contract to include "alternative aviation systems issues."
Watson said Tuesday that county officials discussed expanding Gatzke's contract to include closure of the El Toro and Tustin bases.
He admitted that he initially was unsure what the phrase "alternative aviation systems issues" meant when the proposed expansion of Gatzke's contract was prepared by an office deputy in 1994. He said he was told that it meant El Toro.
Watson said he assumed supervisors knew in 1994 that Gatzke was to take over future El Toro matters but could produce no documentation showing that Gatzke specifically had an open-ended contract to handle such litigation.
The contract extension was on the board's consent calendar and was approved without discussion, according to Spitzer, who listened to a tape of the meeting.
Mittermeier said that Gatzke's contract included language covering future legal work regarding the closure of military bases. But Spitzer quoted Tuesday from a copy of the contract, which contains no mention of the El Toro or Tustin bases, nor does it mention military base closings.
Spitzer said he's asked the state attorney general's office for a formal opinion on the actions that led to Gatzke's representation on the El Toro lawsuits. Stacy Turner, spokeswoman for Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren's office, said the office will be responding to Spitzer's request in a letter this week.