In light of that reality, it’s maddening to look at $47,000 in recent receipts for legal fees that council members have racked up in response to last year’s Stanislaus County Civil Grand Jury Report that was critical of them.
The $37,000 that Councilman Dominic Farinha has incurred is particularly shocking. While it’s not clear how much of that money was spent on hiring public relations specialist Nathan Ballard to serve as a spokesman, not a dime of the city’s coffers should have gone toward that expense.
Ballard, who served as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spokesman while he was mayor and represented former presidential candidate John Kerry, certainly must command a high salary, and there is no need for small-town council members to require a personal media representative, regardless of the situation.
Though Councilwoman Annette Smith has not incurred nearly as much money in legal fees, the public should not be left footing the bill for any portion of her lawsuit against Stanislaus County.
The City Council did not authorize any lawsuits against the county, but only approved legal expenses for defensive purposes. Smith’s decision to sue the county in response to grand jury report was personal, and the suit should be funded at her personal expense.
While it’s true that many of the grand jury’s allegations and recommendations were unfair and were based on seemingly biased accounts, the costs being incurred to defend council members are beyond the pale.
One would hope that the city’s legal counsel would try to prevent these types of expenses in the future. Regardless of whether the council members are legally allowed to have these costs covered, it’s a poor use of public funds at a time when the city is trying to make every dollar count.