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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004
CITY

Morton blasts city attorney selection Morton blasts city attorney selection (May 21, 2004)

Says council shouldn't have bypassed Wynne Furth

by Bill D'Agostino

The "i"s haven't been dotted and the "t"s aren't crossed on the new city attorney's contract, but Councilman Jack Morton has already criticized the City Council's decision.

"I don't understand the decision my colleagues have made," Morton said.

The council announced in early May that an offer was tendered to Gary Baum, Santa Clara's assistant city attorney. Negotiations are still underway, and the council met Monday night in closed session to discuss the matter.

Since Baum, 43, is on vacation this week, the appointment may not be finalized until next week at the earliest, city officials said.

Morton complained on Tuesday that by passing over Interim City Attorney Wynne Furth, the council sent a message to other senior employees that it doesn't promote "competent" people from within. He is also concerned that the attorney's office will be making its second major transition in two years.

The council's choice also does "not recognize the expertise and the high regard that the interim city attorney is held in," Morton said.

Furth, 56, has been the provisional leader of the city's legal team since last September when longtime City Attorney Ariel Calonne left to become the city attorney of Boulder, Colo.

Other council members did not criticize Morton for going public with his gripes, but instead defended their choice. Many said they had great respect for Furth, but felt that Baum -- who has expertise in legal issues surrounding land use -- was a better fit for the organization's future.

"I think most of us have a philosophy that it's good to promote from within, but it's not the factor that determines 100 percent of our decisions," Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said. "We obviously have to choose the person who's best for the job for the next hopefully 10, 12, 15 years."

"Wynne is a fine attorney and it was a very difficult decision," Councilman Jim Burch added. "I think she did a yeoman's job as the interim."

Last summer, Morton penned a memo expressing his disappointment that Calonne -- who had been with the city for 13 years -- was let go without a fight, or a competitive offer.

"I did not understand how my colleagues let one of the most celebrated attorneys in the state exit the City of Palo Alto," Morton said.

Staff writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at bdagostino@paweekly.com


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