Downey brings back Vose as interim city attorney

The city has hired a familiar face as interim city attorney to fill the void created by the unexpected departure of Downey's erstwhile legal voice Ed Lee, an early and swift casualty of the Bell imbroglio whose woeful ramifications continue to unravel today.Looking fit, trim, and ruddy-faced, Charles S. Vose had to be coaxed by city manager Gerald Caton from an apparent dream retirement to serve temporarily as city attorney for a period of not more than 90 days while the city shops around for a permanent replacement. Vose had served in this capacity before, handling the city's legal matters for 10-11 years prior until he chose to retire in 2007, at the ripe age of 60. He is expected to be physically present at city hall about 20-25 hours a week. Earning both bachelor's and law degrees from Long Beach State, he started in 1978 to work for the law firm Oliver, Vose, et al, where he was managing partner. Cities he served besides Downey as the legal firm's municipal government point man included Hermosa Beach, Calabasas, South Pasadena, and Covina. He says he told Caton that "As long as the appointment is only for a short period, I'll be happy." Other positive factors that cemented the temporary deal were Vose's familiarity with the workings of the city, plus the fact that, as he said, "I've enjoyed my work here as city attorney." A comfort level in the relationship also evidently exists. Caton said, "The staff knows him." The agreement calls for Vose to "attend all city council meetings, planning commission meetings, conduct weekly office hours in city hall, and be available for telephone calls from city council members." He has an additional role as general legal counsel for the community development commission. For these services, Vose will receive a monthly retainer of $9,000 from the city. For any additional legal services, i.e., basic legal services as directed by the city council or the city manager, the city will pay him $175 per hour. Provision for these expenses has already been included in the city's general fund. He started putting in hours last week and the contract is retroactive to July 1. Ever since his retirement three years ago, Vose says he has been "very inactive" as far as the practice of law is concerned, except for "some work" as a hearing officer here and there and "attending to minor matters." He says he and his wife, educator and author Dr. Jana Echevarria, who was a former professor, have spent time traveling together throughout the U.S. but especially to her native (northern) Spain. They've been to such destinations as Thailand, South Africa and France as well. But his eyes really lighted up when he talked about his golfing activities, in which he usually indulges twice a week at two favorite private courses in Long Beach. A past 3-handicapper, Vose still sports a strong 5-handicap and exulted at his performance a month ago when he shot a 3-under par 68. He calls it his "best round ever." His golf resume includes a hole-in-one. The couple, who reside in Long Beach, has four children. A daughter is soon to become a lawyer like her dad. "My three sons," he said, "work in different fields." An ancestor who lived in 1654, he says, founded the town of Milton, Massachusetts; his father was English with ¼ Irish blood, while his mother's side immigrated here from Austria at the turn of the 20th century. According to Caton, he doesn't believe there will be a dearth of good candidates for the job of city attorney. "We'll do what's best for the city. What we think will work best is someone who'll serve in-house fulltime," he said, acknowledging the time element in the matter of hiring such a person: "The clock is ticking." The departed Lee was a partner at Best Best & Krieger where he headed its municipal law practice group, acting concurrently likewise as city attorney for a clump of cities including Downey, Bell, and Maywood when he was fired by the Downey city council on July 29 for his entanglement in the tawdry Bell affair. Councilman Mario Guerra was very vocal in his call for Lee's immediate removal to prevent any possibility of even "perception by association" tainting Downey's good name. The council's vote of 3-2 to fire Lee came at the conclusion of the second of two closed city council sessions, which in the light of later messy developments validated Guerra's reading of the situation. The firestorm precipitated by Bell has since assumed awesomely scandalous proportions and has induced a domino effect among other cities across the state at least calling for more operational transparency and disclosure of municipal salaries for better future municipal governance. Damage control was an obvious consideration when Lee resigned his position at his firm to focus on Bell's problems. But this move, too, has seemingly backfired and it's not clear where all this leaves Lee, who, for all his vicissitudes, seems by all measures to have served Downey well during his stint here. Vose said he could not comment on the situation as he knows only what he's read in the papers "same as everybody else."

********** Published: August 12, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 17