Absentee counseling

We’re far from impressed with Chico’s out-of-town legal representation

The city made a poor choice when deciding to hire an out-of-towner as city attorney. Nothing against Vince Ewing; he’s probably a perfectly qualified counselor. Unfortunately, he’s not a Chicoan, nor does he plan on becoming one, and physical presence is an important factor that should have been better considered when hiring a city attorney.

Back in January, when the city was seeking proposals from private law firms, the CN&R warned city leaders that contracting out this important post would be a disservice to the people of Chico. And, after a few months with Ewing filling former City Attorney Lori Barker’s seat, we’ve begun to see evidence that our prediction was correct: He cannot fulfill his duties from a desk in the City of Industry.

Last week’s Internal Affairs Committee meeting was a case in point. Ewing attended via speakerphone, and several times, committee members had to repeat themselves when asking him questions. At the end of the meeting, after giving Ewing direction to draft an amendment to the city’s alarm code, Councilwoman Tami Ritter joked, “Can you repeat that back to me?” He laughed and she quickly retreated, “You’ve got it.” But did he? We’re not so sure.

To add to the problem, as journalists we at the CN&R rely on city employees—like Ewing—to provide insight into important matters. On at least three occasions, including this week for Howard Hardee’s story about alleged Brown Act violations, phone messages left for Ewing were not returned. That was not the case with Barker, who was regularly available in person or by phone. If the media can’t rely on Ewing to respond to us, can the city and the community rely on him to do what it takes to fill his role? We think not. Chico needs an in-house city attorney who not only knows the law, but also knows and cares about this town.