The City Attorney and Council Dilemma

Lawrence City Hall Eagle
Lawrence City Hall Eagle

By Dalia Diaz

  The City of Lawrence Personnel Sub-committee met on August 13, 2018, to discuss the results of the July 9, 2018, executive session interviews for vacant City Attorney position. Recognizing that even though the Personnel Sub-Committee did a fantastic job of conducting the interview under difficult decision-making, the results of the candidates identified to go through to the council as two finalists was a disappointment.

Take into account that three of the four committee members are of Latino ethnicity, the lone Latina candidate who is in the acting position of City Attorney for Lawrence, was not among the finalist sent to the full council for consideration.  This is unfortunate, but not surprising seeing that Mayor Rivera has undermined the selection process by indicating his choice for the city attorney position is Chief of Staff Eileen Bernal.

Hats off to Personnel Committee chairperson (Councilor David Abdoo) who attempted to guide the committee into an executive session to discuss the evaluation of the scores and to determine the number and names of candidates going to the next level of interviews. However, the committee was not understanding or compromising of the discussion and therefore voted on a motion made by Councilor Maria de La Cruz to send the top highest scoring candidates to the council.  How is this important?

Let’s begin by understanding the score ranking. Councilor DePeña placed candidate Ruano in first and Maria De La Cruz placed candidate Corrigan in first, while the other two councilors (Vasquez and Abdoo) placed candidate Bernal in first. One would think that a courtesy of allowing Councilor DePeña to inform his colleagues of his decision to place candidate Ruano as first place, would have occurred. However, Councilor DePeña also did not voice his opinion in allowing his debate and instead voted for Councilor DeLaCruz’s motion. If it were me on that committee, I would have demanded that I be allowed to debate and convince my colleagues as to my best choice and the reasons for placing Ruano as first. 

As Chair Abdoo indicated, in the meeting, the scores were only a guideline to use in a broader selection method created by Personnel Director Frank Bonet. After all, candidate Ruano is in acting status as the city’s attorney.

Did the councilors take into consideration that she has more seniority than the others having been there for 7 years and has been running that department for some time? No.

Did the councilors evaluate her time as acting? No.

Did the counselors take into consideration the amount of courtroom experience or litigation experience? No.

Did the committee take into account her bilingual and bicultural experience? No.

Where social media/sites investigated? Probably not.

Did the committee take into account the number of times each of the candidates has gone before the council and what were their impressions of work completed? Probably not. If they had done so, they would have made those considerations and debated.

There are various criteria to determine an employee’s ability, talents, skills, and qualifications besides just scoring the questions asked of the candidates. If you really think about it, this selection method was the easiest and less time-consuming way of picking out the best finalist. Eileen was just handed the easiest route to a new job; she was just sent to council solely on scores, which has a lot of bias of the scorers.

Like Director Bonet said at the meeting, “Some people just interview well. Being attorneys they all should do well.” Others do the job well.  It’s almost like being in school; some people test well while others don’t. Some are visual while others are not.

We just hope that the full city council would conduct reference reviews and make a determination based on those additional comments by past employers. Reference checks are a last opportunity to verify information the candidate has provided, validate their personal suitability and explore any areas of concern.