PLEASANT HILL -- The surprise announcement Monday that City Attorney Debra Margolis has resigned has raised questions about whether she is leaving voluntarily or being pushed out after 18 years.
"The Pleasant Hill City Council has decided to consider alternative means for providing city attorney services for the city. City Attorney Debra Margolis has tendered her resignation effective July 31, 2012," Mayor John Hanecak announced at the end of the council meeting.
Asked whether the decision to resign was hers or the council's, Margolis replied, "Ask the mayor."
Although Hanecak said Margolis hadn't been fired, he wasn't clear about when or why the council had decided to pursue other options for legal services.
In a voice-mail message left early Tuesday morning, Hanecak changed his late-night-Monday statement to say he has decided to call a July 23 special meeting to consider "alternative means" for legal services. He also said the city expected to finalize a resignation agreement with Margolis later in the day.
Under the agreement, which both parties signed Monday, Margolis will receive $281,090 in severance, plus payment for accrued vacation and sick leave. Margolis earned a salary of $203,808 in 2010 and Pleasant Hill paid nearly $37,000 for her retirement benefits and deposited almost $22,928 into a deferred compensation account, according to information from the city.
The decision to part ways with Margolis
During her performance review on July 2, the council raised the idea of exploring other options for legal services, Margolis said. The council subsequently met in closed session July 9 to discuss the city attorney position and questions about the resignation agreement, Hanecak said.
"They conducted my evaluation and they established an ad hoc subcommittee to talk about this issue. So we've been meeting on and off since July 2," the 54-year-old Margolis said.
In upcoming meetings, the council will review the role and function of the city attorney's office as part of an "evolutionary process" of examining how Pleasant Hill does business and of seeking ways to improve across departments, Hanecak said. "Breadth of services" the city requires, availability to the public, interaction with other managers, time and cost probably may be some of the criteria the city will use to evaluate how to provide legal services, he said. Ultimately, the council might contract out legal services or hire a full-or part-time city attorney, he said.
But Hanecak tried to separate Margolis's sudden departure from the broader discussion about the city attorney's office.
"The (resignation) agreement itself will stand on its own," he said. "The cause-effect, which came first and caused the other, it isn't there between these two items as far as I see it."
Asked whether the council forced Margolis out, Hanecak replied, "In regards to my personal view, this was a voluntary decision and the decision as spelled out in the resignation agreement is not a forced thing."
Margolis also did not provide many details other than to say, "After discussing it, we mutually decided that it was best for me to resign so they could pursue their options and I could pursue mine."
Margolis said she's in no rush to figure out her next move -- she might seek employment or settle into retirement.
"I have enjoyed working for the city of Pleasant Hill, I think they have great staff, great people with a lot of loyalty and dedication and it's been a pleasure," Margolis said. "I've been honored to serve the city for the last 18 years."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.