Palo Alto city attorney to step down | July 2, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 2, 2010

Palo Alto city attorney to step down

Gary Baum to retire from city service on Oct. 31

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto City Attorney Gary Baum will retire from government service in October to pursue a career in private practice and spend more time on pro bono work, the city announced Thursday morning.

Baum, who became the city's chief legal adviser in July 2004 and earned nearly $240,000 in 2009, will step down Oct. 31, the city announced.

In recent years, Baum has won multiple awards for his pro bono work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. But he has also faced criticism from several members of the City Council, most notably Mayor Pat Burt and Councilman Larry Klein.

The city attorney is one of four positions appointed by the council, the others being the city manager, city clerk and city auditor.

"I have been honored to serve as Palo Alto's city attorney and am proud of the work that my staff and I have done on behalf of the City over these past six years," Baum stated in an announcement issued Thursday.

"My tenure has been an incredible opportunity for me to serve the City and its residents; however, now I'm ready to pursue my interest in tackling municipal law in a different format, either by joining a law firm or starting my own practice."

He also said he was "pleased to leave on a high note, knowing that the City Attorney's Office is left in the capable hands of this professional staff."

In the announcement, Baum is credited with cutting costs, assembling a capable legal staff and assisting the city in resolving "many legal problems."

City Manager James Keene called Baum a "dedicated public servant" and said the city's leadership "wishes him the best in the next phase of his career."

Burt said of Baum: "Gary has been committed to minimizing legal risks to the City, and he is regarded highly by his peers."

In recent years Baum has helped Palo Alto form the five-city Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition that regularly meets to discuss strategies for dealing with the proposed high-speed-rail program. The coalition also includes Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame.

In October, when the city was facing a possible workers' strike, Baum succeeded in having 87 workers designated as "essential employees," a designation that would have barred them from striking had the strike occurred.

In March 2009, after a resident criticized Baum during a public hearing, then-Mayor Peter Drekmeier responded by saying the council has "full confidence in our city attorney" and called him "one of the best around."

But other council members at times have expressed their displeasure with his legal advice. On Monday, several council members said they were disappointed with Baum's report on the city's proposal to split sidewalk repair costs with the residents. The council ultimately scrapped the proposal.

At a recent meeting, Klein refused to abstain from a routine vote on agenda order despite Baum's advice that he do so (one of the items on the agenda related to Stanford University, where Klein's wife is an employee).

Klein, Burt and Councilman Greg Scharff also advocated cutting one of the legal secretaries in the City Attorney's Office, a proposal Baum resisted over a series of meetings. The proposed cut was ultimately rejected by the full council.

Baum's next performance evaluation was scheduled for July 27.

Baum has received wide recognition for his pro bono work on behalf of domestic-violence victims. He received the Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award from the Santa Clara County Bar Association in 2007 and the Access to Justice Award from the Pro Bono Project in 2009.

According to the city's announcement, Baum's retirement from the city will "afford him the opportunity to spend more time on pro bono legal work."

Klein, as chair of the council's Council Appointed Officers (CAO) committee, said the full council will likely consider hiring a consulting firm for the city attorney search on July 12 or July 19.

A list of semi-finalists would then be presented to the council, which would select two or three finalists for interviews and background checks.

Klein said he doubted a new attorney could be named by Baum's Oct. 31 retirement date, but he expects one could be named soon after, possibly in November and almost certainly by the end of the year.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

The City Attorney's job is the most difficult one in city government.

Palo Alto's City Attorney is the attorney for both the City Council and the City Manager, plus all the employees who report to the City Manager.

The City Attorney has an ethical and professional obligation to represent his clients to the best of his ability.

Sometimes, a City Attorney is not a good fit for a new City Manager, and it is always the City Attorney who leaves instead of the City Manager.

Less than two years after City Manager Bill Zaner was hired, City Attorney Roy Abrams was asked to leave by the City Council (when Larry Klein was previously on the Council).

Four years after City Manager Frank Benest was hired, City Attorney Ariel Pierre Calonne left Palo Alto.

And now, two years after City Manager Jim Keene was hired, City Attorney Gary Baum will be leaving in the face of criticism from Mayor Burt and the two attorneys on the City Council, Larry Klein and Greg Scharff.

Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Why will it take until early fall to choose a headhunter firm? And how much are we going to pay for finding that firm--let alone for it to form a list of viable applicants?

In other words, are we going to pay (1) a consultant to find a headhunting firm AND (2)that consulting firm to find viable applicants??

Posted by Frugal, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Let me offer a candidate. Bill McClure, City Attorney of Menlo Park.

Menlo Park could use from fresh blood too.

Posted by bill, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm

what is his retirement package- salary & medical benefits- that the City pays him for the rest of his life? Why is this not covered when reporting a departure from the City?

Posted by Ralph, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Not long ago there were titanic three-way power struggles involving Frank Benest, Emily Harrison, and Gary Baum. Soon none of them will be left at Palo Alto City Hall. Bureaucratic turf wars are a huge waste of energy.

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Thank you Larry Klein!

We know you've been working to oust Baum since:

25 million Enron payoff

Baum's role in the Childrens Theater witch hunt

335 thousand harassment settlement to a direct subordinate

Revenge-driven disclosure of the Emily Harrison harassment investigation, while at the same time saying there was only an "oral report" regarding the harassment investigation of a crony department head; thus no disclosure

Baum's tenure is just over 5 years, so he's vested for City paid health care for the rest of his life. The October termination date isn't surprising. He will be out before Jan 1, 2011 as will HR Director Carlsen. If either stayed beyond Jan 1 they would have to pay for some of their retirement health care.

Baum did acomplish one thing that is stated indirectly in the article. He systematically forced out 90% of the City Attorney staff, replacing them with sycophants and cronies. Really talented people, like Donald Larkin who can't even win a case against Victor Frost!

Suggestion. Don't hire a new attorney immediately. Hire a consultant/hatchet man to clean the garbage out of the Attorney's office first. If you don't and retain Baum's staff, nothing will change.

Posted by Clear 'Em Out, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm

HR Director Russ Carlson's departure is long overdue. He will be the next one out the door.

Posted by Curious, a resident of another community
on Jul 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

The list goes on! I think there is a lot of truth to all of the above. Like the saying goes, "what comes around goes around" and it has pretty much happened and there is more to come. With the layoffs and health care change going through on 1/1/2011,there are many changes at City Hall. Is it true that new hires with be back at 2% at 60 with how many years of service?

Posted by Inside observer, a resident of Stanford
on Jul 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

The fact that Baum has been criticized by the likes of Burt, Scharff and Klein is a positive for him. Our city council is always looking for scapegoats for their incompetence and baum was an easy target.
Also do not forget that Klein interfered with the PACT investigation and was highly critical of Baum. I wonder if this is a personal vendetta by Klein.

Posted by Ralph, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 2, 2010 at 8:04 am

Carlsen was a fired former SoCal CM then a political aide up in King County Washington brought in to do the dirty work and be a yes man to the Palo Alto CM.

Posted by PAPD-Critic, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Will some one please out line any and all of the positive accomplishment attributed to Mr. Baum as head of the legal department.

Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2010 at 10:38 am

In 2009 Baum's regular salary was $239,382. Larkin's was $133,730.

Some of Larkin's quotes in the Victor Frost case are truly astonishing:

- Assistant City Attorney Donald Larkin, who was trying the first case of his career, said he didn’t anticipate the extent to which the case would hinge on technicalities …

In retrospect, Larkin said he should have devoted more time to convincing the jury that the 50-foot exception in the sit-lie law did not apply in Frost’s case.
(Daily News, 4-24-10)

- Larkin said there were a few things he could have done differently. "I didn't anticipate a defense that a milk crate is a wheelchair and I didn't anticipate that it would have any resonance with the jury," he said. Web Link

Posted by Concerned Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Thank goodness there were finally enough City Council members with the sense/integrity/skill to recognize the City's lead counsel for the incompetent he has been, and spare the City further expense from his bad advice, lawyering and management decisions. That this took 6 years is inexplicable. A share of the responsibility no doubt rests with the non-critical, non-investigative local newspapers.

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm

It took six years for Baum to leave for the same reason it took eight years for Benest to leave. The Council waited until all the Council Members who hired him had left the Council.

Posted by Clean Sweep, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Nxxt departments that are overdue to be cleaned out are HR and Public Works.

Posted by Peter, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 7, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Did Baum play any role in the CA trees fiasco. Seems as liability concerns were at the heart and soul of the case to cut down the % of trees that they could not call "diseased".

Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm

"Nxxt departments that are overdue to be cleaned out are HR and Public Works.", Posted by Clean Sweep, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood.


The Daily Post has twice reported that Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen is retiring at the end of this calendar year. That will give the City Manager the opportunity to eliminate HR as a separate department and make it part of the Department of Administrative Services or the City Manager's Office, or simply outsource it, which has already been done with listings of job vacancies.

Cleaning out the Public Works Department will expose which of that department's problems are the result of the department leadership and which are the result of the department attempting to implement misguided policy decisions of the City Council majority and the City Manager.

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