Huntington Beach

Gates, council seek compromise


At a long meeting that was – by turns – contentious and conciliatory, the Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday night continued a controversial proposal on legal advice to the first meeting in January.

The council voted 7-0 in favor of moving the issue into a closed session to iron out the process of how the council could direct City Attorney Michael Gates to hire an outside attorney to provide the council with a “second opinion” when desired.

After the council heard dozens of speakers and sometimes testy exchanges between some councilmembers and Gates, the panel backed off on the agenda item which had suggested that the council could select “an outside legal firm that would directly report to and support the city council.”

The intent of the approved motion was to include Gates – who is elected directly by voters – in the process and not create a rival legal entity allied to the council.

There’s a history of some friction between the sometimes outspoken Gates and the council, one sharpened by the emergence of a new majority on the council since the 2020 municipal election.

Gates argued that such a separate legal advisory source was illegal and violated the city charter. “I am the sole legal voice of the city of Huntington Beach,” he said.

Mayor Barbara Delgleize said, “There are legal opinions on all sides.” She conceded that while the city attorney’s office usually provided appropriate service to the council, “we have seen a couple of cases where that has not happened.”

At the heart of the dispute is language in the city charter which most council members Tuesday night suggested was ambigious or contradictory. In any case, Delgleize said, “The city charter is not written in stone.”

Huntington Beach, having incorporated in 1904, is the only city in Orange County to have an elected city attorney, city clerk and city treasurer.

“I can’t believe we are having this discussion four days before Christmas,” said Councilmember Kim Carr.

The next council meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.


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