New Seattle city attorney fires 14, replaces some with less-experienced lawyers
Since Pete Holmes beat incumbent Tom Carr in November for Seattle city attorney, 14 people in the office have lost their jobs, and Holmes has created two new executive positions.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pete Holmes, Seattle's new city attorney, made it no secret on the campaign trail last year that he wanted to make changes to the office.
Since he beat incumbent Tom Carr in November, 14 people have lost their jobs, and Holmes has created two new executive positions.
Holmes said he didn't relish firing attorneys amid a weak economy, but he had to make way for his management team within his existing budget. He said some were let go for no particular reason, some had philosophical disagreements with him, and some didn't have specialties that fit into his new organization.
"They're all at-will, exempt employees," said Holmes. "It's the first time that an incumbent has been defeated in more than 30 years."
The campaign between Carr and Holmes was bitter. The two disagreed about the role of city attorney, and Holmes accused Carr of being close-minded and not transparent with the public. Carr lost, getting just 36 percent of the vote.
Working attorneys in the office — there are about 90 — said they assumed their jobs would be safe despite the election.
The city attorney prosecutes people for misdemeanor offenses, defends the city against lawsuits and gives legal advice to the city. The jobs of the office attorneys are not generally considered political, and many have worked under more than one city attorney.
But Holmes asked for a résumé and performance review from every assistant city attorney and interviewed all of them. The new city attorney is responsible for "reappointing" his entire staff.
Holmes did not reappoint the two division chiefs, one police-precinct liaison, Carr's personal assistant and 10 assistant city attorneys. He has replaced some of the attorneys with lower-paid, less-experienced attorneys, he said.
"It seems misguided to fire already-busy attorneys, the ones in the trenches representing the citizens in court and in city contracts, just to hire two more advisers to the city attorney himself ... who weren't elected, and whom no other city attorney has needed," Suzanne Pierce, a fired senior assistant city attorney in the torts section, said in an e-mail.
Twenty-year office veteran Ted Inkley said he wonders whether some of the attorneys who were not reappointed lost their jobs because of their involvement in controversial cases.
Politicizing staff-level attorney positions would be unprecedented and means, he said, "people were fired for doing their jobs."
In an interview, Holmes said he and the attorneys talked about his philosophy for the office during their interviews but that no one was let go solely because of philosophical differences.
Holmes called Inkley on the phone last month to let him know he was losing his job.
Former Criminal Division Chief Bob Hood, who was not reappointed after 20 years on the job, said he and other employees were alarmed that Holmes used e-mail to communicate he needed to see employees' résumés.
Then, Hood said, they were offended that Holmes let many of them know by phone, rather than in person, that they would not have a job in January.
Hood learned he was losing his job by voice mail. He said Holmes' message said Hood's replacement already had been announced to the press.
"I have never seen a more inept, disorganized and, quite frankly, vindictive transition than this one in 30 years of public life," said Hood, who headed the criminal division since 1998.
Holmes said his new chief of staff, Darby DuComb, will help with "client services" and free up Holmes to spend more time in the community — one of his campaign pledges.
DuComb is a lawyer who since 2007 has directed the city's Customer Service Bureau. Her salary is about $140,000.
Holmes said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg suggested he add a chief of staff. He wants to change the office culture to be more open to new ideas and more accessible to department heads and the public.
The office will try to "say more than 'No, you can't do that,' " he said. "We'll find ways to be part of the solution."
Holmes named John Schochet to the other new position: special counsel and policy adviser to the city attorney. Schochet is a personal friend of Holmes', a campaign volunteer and a fellow Yale graduate. He'll handle civil cases in the office and will also advise Holmes.
He will earn $112,503 — a salary, Holmes said, that's comparable to what other assistant city attorneys earn.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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