WALNUT CREEK -- With two city attorneys leaving in the next few weeks, Walnut Creek leaders have decided to contract out for an interim lead city attorney.
Mayor Cindy Silva announced at a City Council meeting Tuesday that Oakland-based law firm Meyers Nave would take over legal duties for the city on an interim basis, though one of the two assistant city attorneys and a paralegal will continue on.
During a closed session, the council looked over proposals from a few firms and appointed Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson and Councilwoman Loella Haskew to work out a contract with Meyers Nave. One of the firm's attorneys will be the lead interim city attorney once current top counselor Bryan Wenter leaves next week.
Wenter's resignation came as a surprise to many, especially when he called the work environment at City Hall "unproductive" and "unnecessarily difficult." He decided to leave after two years, claiming that certain council members tried to pressure him to shut down an internal investigation into employees' reporting of suspected child sexual abuse.
Council members have denied that they wanted the investigation shut down, only concluded.
That investigation examined whether city employees fulfilled their responsibilities to report suspected abuse to police after firing a Lesher Center employee who was allegedly having inappropriate contact with teenage girls. The employee, Jason Pedroza, was charged by prosecutors in February with two felonies and a misdemeanor, three months after he was fired.
Wenter attended his last council meeting this week as the city attorney, and at the meeting's end Lawson choked up when talking about him.
"Bryan's resignation is to me a tremendous lost. He is also one of the brightest, most talented city attorneys in the state of California," she said. "This sad episode in our city's history has highlighted a true divide in our organization that we must bridge; we need to live up to our reputation as a leader."
After Wenter's resignation last week, assistant city attorney Katy Wisinski submitted her resignation, effective Aug. 23. She is one of two assistant city attorneys. While she wasn't specific about her reason for leaving, she said Wenter's decision was key to her resignation.
The contract for a new city attorney hasn't been worked out, but the term will be 12 to 18 months, Lawson said. That time frame will give council members the opportunity to design a process to search for a permanent city attorney, she said in a separate interview.
In the meantime, the interim city attorney will be involved with many issues, including negotiations between the city and three of its employee bargaining units, a lawsuit over an officer-involved shooting last year, and development proposals for projects such as expansion of Broadway Plaza shopping center.
"We recognized we had a lot of work to do in the near term and needed someone quickly," Lawson said.
As for cost, that has yet to be figured out, but it's likely the city will be billed on an hourly basis the first six weeks, she said.
The annual budget for the city attorney's office is slightly more than $1 million.
Lawson said she is "optimistic" that budget will meet the city's legal needs.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.