String Of Errors And Miscues Ends Talley’s Run As Colton City Attorney

(September 18) Christina Talley has been relieved of her position as Colton city attorney, the Sentinel  has learned.
The move comes after a series of acts or omissions by Talley that has put the contract for legal representation between Colton and the firm for which Talley works, Best Best & Krieger, in jeopardy.
Earlier this year, former Colton city manager Stephen Compton had given indication that the city was contemplating carrying out a review of its contract for legal services with Best Best & Krieger, to be accompanied by a solicitation of proposals from other firms or attorneys to determine whether the legal services being provided by Talley and Best Best & Krieger were cost effective, and whether comparable, or better, legal service could be had at a lower cost.
Ironically, Talley’s reaction to that circumstance, together with other issues, exacerbated the situation.
In Colton, as in other cities, members of the city council and city staff rely upon the city attorney for guidance with regard to staying within the parameters of the law.
The California Government Code, the Political Reform Act, and multiple other provisions of state law impose limitations on how a local government can operate. In addition, California cities are generally of two orders: general law cities, which follow a standard protocol of governance, and charter cities, which are subject to voter approved charters of their authority that lay down a protocol of governance that is particular to that city. City attorneys are called upon to make interpretations as to general law or municipal charters, where they apply. A goal in the provision of this advice is to bring a city into compliance with the law to prevent legal challenges to the city’s action or to ensure that the city will prevail legally if there is such a challenge. The city attorney in most circumstances is called upon to represent the city in those cases where a legal challenge ensues.
One primary law applicable to cities is the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s Open Meeting Law, which sets standards with regard to the transparency of the governing process, and spells out the requirements a city and its officials must meet if it or they want to restrict the public flow of information with regard to official municipal action. Such secrecy is permissible only under strictly defined conditions, such as when the information pertains to labor negotiations, personnel matters, contract negotiations, real estate selling or acquisition negotiations, or pending or ongoing legal action.
Among the problems relating to Talley’s performance in Colton are those areas where it appears the city fell out of compliance with the Brown Act. The Brown Act requires that items to be discussed and voted upon by the city council be agendized prior to council meetings so that the public is given notice of the pending action and can provide input before the council takes official action with regard to it. Talley allowed non-agendized items to be discussed by the council, including ones where an apparent consensus was arrived at.
One of the more egregious examples of Talley’s failure to adhere to the law occurred at the June 3 council meeting, at which a decision to place Compton on administrative leave was made.
Compton’s inquiry into questionable financial practices, including “off-the-books” projects in the public works department in the previous months brought him close to uncovering details of how certain projects were funded, including several unauthorized projects which were being run out of the public works department.  This brought scrutiny to the actions of public works director Amer Jakher, who enjoyed a close relationship with a majority, though not all, of the members of the city council.
This brought scrutiny to the actions of public works director Amer Jakher, who enjoyed a close relationship with a majority, though not all, of the members of the city council.
In the same time frame, some council members were pushing Compton to examine the city’s contract with  Best, Best & Krieger and Talley, and potentially put the contract for city legal services out to bid.
With Compton’s audit coming so close to the questionable use of city personnel, equipment, resources and funds,  which in at least two cases appeared to possibly benefit council members, and a move to perhaps bring in new legal counsel, the city council at its April 1, May 23 and June 3 regularly scheduled meetings adjourned into closed sessions to engage in, according to those meetings’ published agendas, “public employee performance evaluation[s] pursuant to Government Code Section 54957 Title:  City Manager.” After closed door discussions from which the public was excluded at each of those three council sessions, the mayor and council returned without the city attorney giving any indication of reportable action. Two days after the June 3 meeting, however, toward the end of the business day, Compton was informed that he was being placed on administrative leave. He was then abruptly and ignominiously walked out of City Hall by a plain clothes police officer.
No council meeting, closed or open, was held between June 3 and June 5, the day Compton was suspended. It thus appears that Talley misinformed the public when she said the council had taken no reportable action on June 3.
Subsequently, when questions about the action taken against Compton surfaced, the public was met with statements that no information could be provided to the public because it was a confidential personnel issue. It was disclosed, however, that the city was carrying out an investigation into Compton’s action as city manager.
In July, a group of Colton residents filed a complaint with the city to investigate alleged irregularities in the city’s public works department alleging potential misappropriation of public funds, gift of public funds and misuse of public funds which benefitted two city council members. The citizens provided documentation indicating that the “off the books” activity, i.e., work that had not been considered or approved by the city council, had indeed taken place in the public works division. That request was moved forward by police chief Steve Ward, who was then acting in the capacity of city manager during Compton’s absence. Chief Ward initiated an investigation and personally forwarded the request to Talley. The investigation was handed over to another Best Best & Krieger attorney, Ronald Ball, who is “of counsel” with the firm. Several weeks later it was discovered that Talley, however, neglected to provide Ball with the background documentation that had been provided to the city by the group of residents requesting the investigation. Thus, the investigation failed to focus on the “off-the-books” activity in the public works department that was at the root of the concerns expressed by the citizens group, and the final report reflected an incorrect timeline of events which discredited its conclusion that two of the members of the council, Frank Gonzales and Susan Oliva, had not benefited from the misapplication of resources in the public works department.
Ball spurned the Sentinel’s efforts to obtain his version of events with regard to the materials withheld from him during his investigation of the Colton matter.
Last month, city staff removed from the city’s website information pertaining to the city’s policy relating to the construction of speed humps, including the protocol for getting those items approved, which had been authored by Jakher as the city’s public works director. An inquiry into that action prompted the city clerk’s office to disclose that the information had been removed at the city attorney’s direction. Talley does not have authority to alter the city’s website.
Beginning in August, Talley became less and less visible in Colton. She was replaced in some venues by Marco Martinez, a partner with Best Best & Krieger. In fact, Talley’s mishandling of the Colton account appears to have impacted her standing with Best Best & Krieger, which now appears to be in danger of losing Colton as a client altogether. Talley, who formerly had an office in Best Best & Krieger’s Irvine office, where she was formerly listed as an “associate,” has been consistently unavailable at that location since August. She is no longer listed as an “associate,” but is now deemed to be “of counsel,” an indication Best Best & Krieger is seeking to disassociate itself from her.
The final straw which set the stage for Talley’s departure appears to be events at the September 2 council meeting. Talley violated attorney-client privilege by publicly disclosing the results of the investigation initiated by the Colton citizens without seeking the approval of the full council. Councilman Frank Gonzales, one of the two council members alleged to have benefited as result of the “off-the-books” activity in the public works department, convinced Talley to discuss the investigation’s results publicly during his council comments, which not only violated attorney-client privilege, but appears to have violated the Brown Act as well since discussion took place on a non-agendized item.
This disclosure further violated Compton’s right to confidentiality with regard to his status and performance as a city employee/former employee.
During questioning by the council, Talley went on to disclose that the results of the investigation would be made available to the public, once again bypassing attorney-client privilege. She also indicated that the investigation into the public works portion of the complaint was ongoing, which contradicted information provided by Ball.
Within the last two weeks, Best Best & Krieger has brought Carlos Campos, a partner in the firm and the city attorney for the city of Coachella, in to serve as the acting city attorney of Colton. Indications were that Campos, who speaks Spanish and has published articles with regard to international human rights law, was handpicked by the higher powers within Best Best & Krieger to shore up the firm’s relationship with Colton officials in an effort to salvage the contract for legal services the firm has with Colton.
Marco Martinez did not return any of several phone calls seeking input for this article.

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