A split Anaheim City Council voted Tuesday to name Arturo N. Fierro, who is the father of Councilman Jordan Brandman’s campaign manager and policy aide, as interim city attorney for the next six months.
Council members voted 3-2 to approve the controversial appointment, with the council majority (consisting of Brandman and councilwomen Kris Murray and Lucille Kring) voting in favor, and Mayor Tom Tait and Councilman James Vanderbilt voting no.
Under the contract, Fierro would serve as interim city attorney from this week until May 4, 2017 and receive a salary of $8,100 every two weeks, or about $101,250 over the six-month period, according to a city staff report.
The council majority had originally sought to appoint Fierro permanently, but delayed the decision last month after facing backlash from residents who are suspicious of his close ties to Brandman.
The city attorney position has been a lightning rod for controversy in recent years. Last month, the council agreed to a $1.45-million settlement in a discrimination case brought by former City Attorney Cristina Talley. Talley, a 56-year-old Latina, claimed age, gender and race-based discrimination, and said members of the council majority forced her to resign because they felt she favored Tait and then-Councilwoman Lorri Galloway.
Fierro has been the assistant city attorney for the city of Chino and city attorney for Coachella Valley and Cudahy. He held those contract positions as the partner of a small law firm in south Los Angeles County, Gutierrez, Fierro & Erickson.
His son, Daniel Fierro, worked with Brandman for state Assemblyman Ian Calderon and helped manage Brandman’s campaigns for the U.S. Congress and city council. Daniel Fierro and his wife Felicia now work as policy aides for Brandman.
Tait has suggested the council majority is attempting to fill the key position ahead of next Tuesday’s election, which could flip the dynamic of the council entirely if at least two of the four open seats are filled by candidates allied with Tait.
He believes the city should continue to allow Assistant City Attorney Kristin Pelletier – who has acted in the top position in the absence of a permanent city attorney – and leave the appointment to the next city council.
“To bring someone from the outside for a short period doesn’t make a lot of sense. I believe it’s a waste of taxpayer money,” Tait said.
Murray said Fierro was hired as part of a legitimate, six-month selection process conducted by an outside recruiter hired by the city.
“Mr. Fierro applied in good faith. He has 26 years of experience, he is Harvard educated, he was independently reviewed by the recruiter and this council based on his years of experience and skill sets,” Murray said. “We do have an obligation to continue serving this city.”
Tait said Fierro’s connection to Brandman should be a conflict of interest. He has also criticized Fierro for representing an individual suing the city for a personal injury. Fierro handed the case over to a colleague on Oct. 18, according to court records.
“I imagine those candidates are concerned that after we asked people to apply and interview we end up selecting somebody who is the father of Councilman Brandman’s campaign consultant,” Tait said. “I think it looks bad.”
City spokesman Mike Lyster said the city does not have any reason to believe Brandman should recuse himself from the vote.
Vanderbilt said he preferred another candidate, but was less strident than Tait in his opposition. In his comments from the dais, Vanderbilt said he had hoped the council would come to a consensus over the appointment to allay public concerns and allow the next city attorney to start work in good standing with the entire council.
“I appreciated the process and wish we could come together as a group, but it doesn’t appear that will be the case tonight,” Vanderbilt said.
Although Brandman didn’t comment on the appointment at Tuesday’s meeting, he previously told Voice of OC that he disclosed his connections to Fierro to council members and is “confident there is no conflict of interest.”
Kring said Fierro interviewed well and was selected on his merits, but noted that the applicant pool was small. The city received 25 applicants, seven who were selected for additional review, said Lyster.
“We were limited in the amount of candidates that we had, that is not going to get any better. I don’t care how you splice and dice it,” Kring said. “We called people, people on this dais personally called people…they were just not interested.”
As council members prepared to vote, some members of the audience shouted at Brandman to recuse himself from the vote.
Fierro declined to comment on his appointment.
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