By Ryan Hagen | rhagen@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: February 20, 2018 at 8:02 pm | Updated: February 20, 2018 at 8:50 pm

After two weeks of public calls for a vote on Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey’s attempted veto of a new contract for the city manager, the City Council formally voted Tuesday, Feb. 20, to stand by the city attorney’s opinion that the only way to reject the contract would be a lawsuit.

The council majority voted 4-2 to reaffirm the city attorney’s Feb. 6 opinion that the mayor needed to go to court to enforce the veto, Councilman Chris Mac Arthur said in a statement after the council’s closed session discussion.

“The charter is plain that the three charter officers report to, work for, and take direction from the council, not the mayor,” Mac Arthur said. “No one can have two bosses and work efficiently.”

Councilmen Chuck Conder and Jim Perry voted no. Councilman Steve Adams was absent. The mayor doesn’t vote, except to break a tie.

Bailey, who continues to reserve the right to sue, said in an interview after the meeting that there are two other remedies: The council could schedule a vote on whether to override his veto, or City Manager John Russo could agree not to accept the new contract.

“I don’t want us to have this conflict,” Bailey said, adding that he agrees the city manager works for the City Council. “I’m not his boss, and it’s not hiring or firing. I’m vetoing the compensation and (standing for) the principle that it’s bad timing, bad business and bad policy.”

The council also asked an outside attorney to prepare a written version of his advice to share with the public within seven days, Mac Arthur said.

The statement also rejects the idea that anyone but the city attorney “be permitted to obtain counsel at taxpayers’ expense.”

Before announcing his veto of Russo’s contract, Bailey received a letter from attorney Philip Kohn of Rutan & Tucker to back his opinion that — despite City Attorney Gary Geuss’ position — the charter allows the mayor to veto a contract with the city manager.

Kohn wrote to Bailey on Feb. 9 that he had been told the city charter doesn’t allow the mayor to hire legal counsel without the City Council’s consent. To avoid any conflict, Kohn wrote, he would not charge the city for any of the services he provided or provide any further legal advice on the matter.

Mac Arthur said he would let the statement speak for itself and declined to comment further. He also deferred the question of who the outside counsel was to Geuss, who was not immediately available.

According to Bailey, the outside attorney is Michael Colantuono. Colantuono donated $125 and provided $1,375 in non-monetary contributions to Russo when Russo — then Oakland city attorney — ran for Assembly in 2006, Bailey said, citing a 2006 story in the Oakland Focus Blog News. Colantuono serves as city attorney for the cities of Auburn and Grass Valley.

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