Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Will Tim LaSota be the new Scottsdale City Attorney?

Origin of Opinion ...

July 13, 2009

The Game of Picking a New City Attorney

Now that the Scottsdale City Council has given the city attorney her walking papers, rumors are running rampant about who will be her replacement. Actually, Deborah Robberson had barely left the building with her unabridged edition of Robert's Rules of Order before the speculation started.

The scuttlebutt ranges from the realistic to the ridiculous. Nevertheless, it all makes captivating conversation -- especially around city hall, an incubator for political opinion.

Before she was given her pink slip last week, Robberson's four-plus-year tenure as city attorney was a tale of two councils: the one chaired by former Mayor Mary Manross and the current one ruled by recently elected Mayor Jim Lane. Her first tour of duty went relatively well. The second stint -- which was cut short by a council vote of 6-1 to dismiss her -- lasted less than six months.

Anyone who read Lane's campaign literature last fall could have predicted Robberson's departure. It was her legal opinions that eventually led to the city losing tens of millions of dollars in two high-profile court cases, both of which were pet peeves for the Lane campaign. All that had to happen to hasten her exit was to align several elements that included a petition signed by 36 citizens requesting her resignation or firing ... sewing the seeds of doubt about her professionalism so her dismissal was advocated by the Scottsdale Republic ... and the council meeting in executive session to discuss her unique interpretations of the law and the wisdom of her legal advice.

In truth, Robberson didn't help her own cause. Public speaking wasn't one her strong suits. The term stage fright comes to mind - something she was unable to overcome, even when she tried the old trick during public meetings of picturing the mayor and council sitting in their underwear.

Musical Chairs

For the time being the three deputy city attorneys will share the responsibilities of the vacated position. Like other departments already squeezed to provide the same services with less employees as part of the city's austerity program, the city attorney's office will function just fine. But the city attorney is a charter officer of the city, so the position must eventually be filled. Unless the charter is changed.

Meanwhile, the council is contemplating the process they'll use to hire the new city attorney. And that's giving the gadflies plenty of time to cluster around water coolers and copy machines to toss out possible names for the next city attorney - and also the political scenarios that accompany each one.

There's a consensus that the council would normally give serious consideration to promoting someone from the city attorney's office who knows the nuances of Scottsdale government. But that's the path Deborah Robberson took to become city attorney. So candidates from within the ranks are automatically being checked off the list by the prognosticators.

Understandably, the council doesn't want to be burned again. Besides, according to city hall conspiracy theorists, Mayor Lane may have something up his sleeve. That possibility quickly shifts the focus of their speculation to the mayor's chief of staff, Tim LaSota.

What's My Line?

Tim LaSota is an attorney who is deft at practicing in the public sector. But that's not why Mayor Lane created a six-figure job for him, a position that never existed until Lane became mayor.

Before becoming the mayor's right-hand man in January, LaSota was county attorney Andrew Thomas' special assistant deputy for four years. As the county prosecutor's go-to guy, LaSota practiced more politics than law. His primary job was as a lobbyist who was paid to look out for the county attorney's political interests.

The Sonoran Alliance calls him the "Karl Rove of Arizona Politics."

The water cooler wags say LaSota wasn't lured from his job at Maricopa County only to become the mayor's chief of staff. They contend that isn't the kind of political career move the son of a former Arizona attorney general makes. He was raised to know better.

LaSota's father is Jack, who also served as chief of staff to former Governor Bruce Babbit. Now he's a lobbyist. The elder LaSota's most recent political venture was on behalf of one of his law firm's biggest clients, the pay day loan industry. His client invested $12 million in a fiasco called the "Pay Day Reform Act" that went down in flames at the polls last November. When he wasn't recording automated telephone calls for the pay day campaign, he counseled another campaign ... the Lane For Scottsdale Committee.

Tim LaSota isn't exactly a favorite around city hall -- he is, however, thought by many to be the frontrunner for city attorney.

A Political-Free Zone

For the record, the mayor and several council members say the next city attorney shouldn't be "political." In fact, they want the person selected to be "apolitical." Mayor Lane says he'll be trying to find a person who is "competent, conscientious and independent."

But independence is in the eye of the beholder.

That's why plenty of pundits wouldn't be surprised if the new city attorney is a barrister with ties to the Goldwater Institute -- the controversial organization that keeps popping up all over the Valley. Including Scottsdale, where it's eager to begin shaping government. Even though it's an ultra-conservative confederation of lawyers, the Institute attempts to sell itself as independent of politics. Sometimes it works, other times not so much.

Not withstanding the independence issue, according to quite a few forecasters, the odds are almost even that the Goldwater Institute may be successful in getting one of its operatives hired at city hall.

All the subjective qualifications aside, "hiring" the next city attorney is the same as an "appointment." It's a fact. Make no mistake, the new city attorney will, indeed, be appointed -- it only takes four votes from the council.

And, like it or not, any appointment process is never apolitical.

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