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Dana Point City Council Refuses Open Bidding for Legal Contract

There appears to be a great difference of opinion on the city council concerning the city of Dana Point’s contract for legal services currently provided by city attorney Patrick Muñoz. Three council members are satisfied with his legal services and do not want to allow competitive bidding. Two council members and the Financial Review Committee felt, after 16 years of no competitive bidding, the time had come to put the contract out for open bids.

Here is what happened:

  • Dana Point city council members Debra Lewis and Paul Wyatt put the item on the council agenda
  • Dana Point Mayor Richard Viczorek, however, refused and moved the topic to closed session
  • City attorney Patrick Muñoz, whose contract was the subject of the bidding, supported Mr. Viczorek’s conclusion to limit the discussion to closed session
  • Council members Lewis and Wyatt believed the city council would be violating the Brown Act and refused to participate in closed session
  • Viczorek and Muñoz eventually relented and the item was brought to an open city council meeting on February 22, 2018

Transparency in government garners trust. When Dana Point city council members Debra Lewis and Paul Wyatt asked the city council to send the city attorney contract out to bid, they put the item on the city council’s open session agenda. Dana Point Mayor Richard Viczorek, however, refused and moved the topic to closed session. He insisted that the matter be heard only behind closed doors, characterizing the debate as a public employee performance evaluation. Mayor Viczorek asked city attorney Patrick Muñoz, whose contract was the subject of the bidding, to weigh in on the controversy.

Mr. Muñoz supported Mr. Viczorek’s conclusion. Council members Lewis and Wyatt took exception. Unless debate took place in public, they believed the city council would be violating the Brown Act. To avoid running afoul of the open meeting act, council members Lewis and Wyatt made it clear they would not participate if the city attorney contract was brought up in closed session.

Ultimately, Mr. Viczorek and Muñoz gave in. The controversy had delayed consideration by one council meeting, but debate on the city attorney contract and fiscal responsibility eventually took place publicly on February 22, 2018.

Council members Lewis and Wyatt noted that with the city spending over a million dollars each year on its city attorney, refusing to assess the current free market status of legal services would make the city council bad stewards of taxpayers’ money. They each voted to request competitive bids for the contract, asserting that after 16 years, Dana Point residents deserve to know whether or not the city is getting the best value for its money. To make that determination, they argued, the marketplace should be thoroughly examined through a standard open bidding process.

The attempt to open up the city attorney’s longstanding contract to competitive bidding was voted down. Council members Lewis and Wyatt voted in favor but lost to members Muller, Tomlinson and Viczorek’s votes against. As a result, the contract remains unchanged.

What was the argument against this motion? In voting no, Mayor Viczorek and council members Joe Muller and John Tomlinson argued that a request for proposals gives the impression that Mr. Muñoz’s law firm, Rutan & Tucker, was being fired, even though they too would have been invited to join in the open bidding. Viczorek, Muller and Tomlinson were satisfied with the legal services and gave no mention of concern about whether Dana Point may or may not be overpaying.

The Financial Review Committee, by a 4-0 vote (with one member absent), had recommended that the city attorney contract be put out to bid. Shortly after defeating that recommendation, in a 3-2 Council vote, Mayor Viczorek, council members Muller and Tomlinson immediately then dissolved the current Financial Review Committee, put on hold any further meetings by that committee, and agreed to rewrite its charter. Council members Lewis and Wyatt voted no on that motion.

In contrast, Lewis and Wyatt moved to allow the Financial Review Committee more latitude to review any of the city’s public financial materials and advise city council accordingly. That motion lost 3-2, with Viczorek, Muller, and Tomlinson again voting against that motion.

Photo by Brian Park. http://www.thecapistranodispatch.com

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About the Author

Ross Teasley

A long-time Dana Pointer, technologist and publisher, I have been involved in several initiatives around Dana Point over the years ranging from environmental issues to civic planning. Fueled by coffee.

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