OV pares town attorney list to two candidates - Tucson Local Media: Import

OV pares town attorney list to two candidates

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Posted: Wednesday, March 9, 2005 12:00 am

March 2, 2005 - From a field of 20 candidates, Oro Valley has narrowed its search for a new town attorney to two finalists, both longtime Arizona residents with backgrounds in municipal law. Five candidates were interviewed during an executive session held Feb. 19. Those candidates included Gerald H. Grask, the current city attorney in Bisbee; Richard W. Files, the assistant city attorney in Yuma and former deputy county attorney of Yuma County; Garnet Emery, the Safford city attorney and former deputy county attorney of both Graham and Mohave counties; Jose Machado, a former Nogales city attorney and Santa Cruz county attorney, who currently practices law privately from his Tucson office; and Melinda Garrahan, a former attorney in the Arizona Attorney General's office, who most recently practiced from a private Flagstaff office.

After the Feb. 19 meeting, the search was narrowed to just two candidates: Garrahan and Machado.

The council recently voted to change the reporting structure for the town attorney's position to have the chief legal counsel report directly to it instead of the town manager.

When former town attorney Mark Langlitz left the town last October to take a position with the Pima County Attorney's office, several council members expressed interest in helping to pare down applicants.

A screening committee was composed of Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie and council members Paula Abbott, Kenneth "K.C." Carter, Conny Culver and Helen Dankwerth. In addition, Frank Cassidy, the Marana town attorney, and Oro Valley Human Resources Director Jeff Grant were participants.

Mayor Paul Loomis and Councilmember Terry Parish had previously stated that they were not interested in being part of the screening process.

Parish said he felt the initial phases of the process should be left up to the human resources department.

"I'm not an attorney. I'm also not a human resources employee, and my opinion is that is why we have town staff. We look at the recommendations of town staff and the town manager and we go from there," he said. "They've been trained to do this. We have to trust them to give us a good list of candidates. I will definitely be involved when it comes down to the final phase of this, but the initial phases, I don't think that's what I am supposed to be doing as a council member."

The next round of interviews will be in an executive session with the entire council, likely held the week of March 7, according to Grant.

Because the preliminary interviews were held in executive session, Grant said he could not comment on the questions asked of the applicants.

However, he said the candidates were narrowed down by using the job description generated by the town for the position, with an emphasis on someone who had previous experience working with a municipality and had a background in land use law down by using the job description generated by the town for the position, with an emphasis on someone who had previous experience working with a municipality and had a background in land use law and development issues.

According to the job description used by the town to find qualified applicants for the position, the town was looking for a candidate who:

€ Graduated from an accredited college of law.

€ Has a minimum of five years experience in the field of municipal law, with significant experience in a municipal setting.

€ Has considerable experience in zoning and land use law, with a strong background in Arizona municipal law and Arizona land use.

€ Has management experience consistent with the demands of effectively managing the day-to-day operations of a legal department.

€ Has previous experience reporting to a body of elected officials.

According to the finalists who took part in the screening process, land use law was a topic the council wanted to hear a lot about during the interviews.

Garrahan, 53, said it was an area she felt comfortable discussing, as she has had experience dealing with land use issues from her previous positions.

"Oro Valley has a wonderful land base," Garrahan said. "I recognize the community's need to balance growth and economic development."

Having worked through those types of issues before, particularly for the town of Sedona, she said she has the knowledge and skills to help Oro Valley work through its own land issues.

"I have a solid background in land use and development issues," she said. "And it seems to be a serious concern in Oro Valley."

Garrahan worked in the law offices of Mangum, Wall, Stoops and Warden, in Flagstaff, since the late 1980s, first as an associate, then as a partner.

During her time with the practice, she acted as general counsel for several municipalities, including the city of Cottonwood, the towns of Fredonia and Camp Verde, Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College, and several local school districts. Garrahan also served as the Sedona city attorney from 1991 to 1996, before the city had an in-house attorney.

She said she is currently "taking a break" in Flagstaff, but wants to get back into the field of public service. She left the practice in November over "business differences with my partners."

Garrahan was born in New Mexico, but has lived in Arizona since she was 9 years old. She went to undergraduate school at Northern Arizona University and to law school at Arizona State University.

She and her husband honeymooned in Tucson, and have tried to return to the area every other year since to enjoy the weather and recreational opportunities. The two eventually decided they would like to relocate here.

"We enjoy the cultural diversity and the commitment to the arts, and just the natural beauty of the area," she said.

She found out about the opening in Oro Valley while looking at the Arizona Bar Association and League of Arizona Cities and Towns Web sites, and thought it sounded "like a great opportunity. "

Garrahan believes in what she calls "preventative law," which she said deals with getting involved in a litigious issue early and "managing the risk."

"It's taking care of things early before it gets bad," meaning before the parties end up in long legal battles in the courts. She said, with municipal law, she sees opportunities to practice this type of "risk management."

The other thing attracting her back to public service is that there is "never a dull day" she said.

Garrahan has had "some really great moments" working in municipal law, but takes pride in one particular accomplishment, when she worked with the Legislature and the governor to establish the Water Rights Adjudication Team, to assess what water rights the state had and what it would defend in the future. The team is still working on the project.

Like Garrahan, the second finalist, Machado has a long background in municipal law.

"My whole career, I've been involved in governmental law," Machado, 53, said. "It's what I am comfortable doing. I am confident in it."

A lifelong Tucson-area resident, he sees Oro Valley as a "progressive" town and wants to be part of its future growth and development.

While working as the Santa Cruz county attorney, he saw the construction of the county's municipal complex from inception to completion and said it was some of the most rewarding work he has ever done.

"You can actually see your accomplishments," he said. As part of the project, Machado helped work out the deal that got the parcel of land where the county wanted to build conveyed to it by the federal government. He was then able to work deals with the surrounding property owners to help acquire the land around it, in order to gain access.

"Instead of condemnation, we were able to work deals to have the property owners donate land in exchange for improvements" to roads and other infrastructure, a point about which Machado is particularly proud.

Machado sees municipal zoning and development agreements as two of the most challenging areas in Arizona law today, and said he will likely have to deal with both issues if appointed to the Oro Valley position.

Machado said he was asked during his interview with the Oro Valley screening panel how he would deal with different factions that invariably form on the council and within the town.

He said the key is not aligning oneself with any one of these groups.

"As the city attorney, you have to develop trust and confidence with the council. No attorney can operate without it," he said. "Once you are viewed as being on one side, or the other, the validity of your legal opinions can be questioned."

He said a town attorney's top priority should be "to take care of the council and the city" and protect them legally.

He said he realizes that he may often be giving advice to people who have little to no prior experience with any given issue, but he said there is a way of explaining the law to people without talking down to them or making it personal.

"You never want to be confrontational," he said. He also said he recognizes that while he is opining on the law, there are other factors that weigh on the decision making of the council and the town manager.

"You have to make sure the council is acting within legal parameters; where it goes from there is up to them," he said.

Machado was the center of some controversy when he was employed with Nogales.

In June 2003, he was abruptly fired when the council there voted 4-3 at a regular meeting to terminate his employment. He was given no reason as to why, but was asked to immediately leave the town hall.

Later, the town filed suit against Machado, asking that a portion of his salary be returned to the city, because he had written his own employment agreement, a conflict of interest, which gave him an $11,000 raise, additional benefits and a severance package. The new town attorney described the contract as "extremely self-serving."

But Machado countersued the city, alleging he was fired as "direct retaliation" for refusing to participate in illegal activities being engaged in by Nogales council members, according to a counterclaim filed in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in September 2003.

He sued the city of Nogales for back wages, treble wages, punitive damages and attorney's fees totaling more than $2 million.

The counterclaim was dismissed and the suit brought by the city was settled out of court.

When asked about the circumstances under which he left Nogales and the subsequent legal action taken against him and by him, Machado said "there was a difference in opinion of what the mayor thought he could do and what was legal." The mayor of Nogales was Marco Lopez, then 24 and at the time the youngest mayor is U.S. history.

He said the issues have since been resolved, and that he had a "good relationship" with the other council members.

When asked if he would have difficulty working with council members, or town staff, that were new to their positions and had little knowledge of the law, he said he "doesn't anticipate any problems."

"There is a big difference between someone who thinks he knows everything and someone who needs to be shown," Machado said.

In Tucson, controversy also swirled around him for a time, when in 1997 he was arrested by Pima County Sheriff's deputies for hosting a high school graduation party, where teenagers were allegedly allowed to drink alcohol. He was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and with unlawful acts involving alcohol. The story was covered by the local press.

Machado later filed a civil suit against the county alleging that the deputies had violated his Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution, his civil rights, and had "maliciously" prosecuted him, damaging his reputation, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleged the deputies were "rude, violent … and abusive." However, the deputies reported a different version of the night's events, in which Machado was the one acting improperly.

The charges against Machado were dismissed by a Justice Court judge, who stated there was no probable cause to enter Machado's property when the deputies came to break up the party, which ended in Machado's arrest. Pima County appealed, but the Justice Court decision was upheld. The civil suit was dismissed, with prejudice, after both sides reached an out-of-court settlement.

Machado is married and has four children, three of whom graduated from Salpointe Catholic School and one who still is a sophomore there. He graduated from Tucson High School and attended the University of Arizona for both his undergraduate and law degrees.

Both candidates said they see the active constituency of Oro Valley as encouraging and not in anyway detrimental.

"You need to understand that people caring strongly is not a bad thing," said Garrahan, who would expect a well-educated community such as Oro Valley to be participants in the local government.

She said she can foresee challenges, however, especially in an affluent town such as Oro Valley, where, when citizens care enough about an issue, they can put money behind the best lawyers in the state. But, she said she had situations in the Attorney General's office when "you take a deep breath and gulp" and said she will work to stand up for what is best for the town, if hired.

Machado agreed, saying it is when those people stop being present and stop having their opinions heard that a town needs to worry that it has become "stagnant."

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