PINOLE -- Ben Reyes will remain as Pinole's city attorney after a move to oust him failed by a 3-2 vote of the City Council.
Mayor Debbie Long and Councilman Phil Green voted in favor of replacing Reyes, while council members Tim Banuelos, Peter Murray and Roy Swearingen were opposed. The vote, at a special meeting last week, was the culmination of a closed-session performance evaluation of Reyes after the city's flip-flop handling of a lease with Verizon Wireless for a cell phone tower site in Pinole Valley Park and confusion over whether the company already had a valid lease.
City Manager Belinda Espinosa and a Verizon representative had signed a lease in December starting at $2,000 per month for up to 25 years on an approximately 1,000-square-foot space on Adobe Road on the eastern edge of the park. Reyes approved the form of the lease.
In January, the city recorded a "Memorandum of Land Lease Agreement" with the Contra Costa County recorder. Nevertheless, the city contended that the lease would not be valid until ratified by the council.
On June 18, the council rejected the lease, delighting opponents who had raised fears ranging from electromagnetic wave-induced cancers to fire and even terrorism, in addition to aesthetic concerns. But after Verizon threatened to sue to enforce what it contended was a valid and binding lease, the council on July 9 voted to reconsider its refusal at the following meeting.
On July 16, the council ratified the lease, with an amended starting rent of $2,200 per month; the term is up to 25 years.
Long said this week that the closed-session nature of last week's proceeding restricted the details she could provide, but she said anyone on the city side who had a hand in the Verizon lease matter now "understands where the mistakes were made." She said she had "always been satisfied with Ben's advice," but that for the Verizon matter, she "would have liked to have more direction."
"What's come to light now is, we need to have a better policy in place," Long said. "We need to have more checks and balances."
Reyes, in an email Tuesday, did not comment on details of the lease episode but wrote:
"I am honored to serve the city of Pinole as its city attorney since 2005 and am pleased that I will continue my service to the city. I will make it a priority to exceed the council's expectations, and my office will continue to work diligently to represent Pinole in our work for the city."
Some circumstances surrounding the lease remain murky. Espinosa, in a Feb. 5 staff report, said the staff had reviewed the deal points with the City Council on Feb. 21, 2012, and that "the City Council authorized the city manager to proceed and sign the lease." But when the council emerged from closed session Feb. 21, 2012, there was no announcement related to the Verizon lease matter.
"I do not accept that staff report," Long said this week. "There was no vote by the City Council to authorize the signing of the lease. There was no direction given other than to look at deal points."
Espinosa did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner