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City defends hire of lawyer from firm linked to Bell charter city scandal

Yang has represented Auburn for over two decades
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The City of Auburn hired a lawyer from the firm Best, Best and Krieger for representation in redevelopment issues. Opponents of Measure A, the initiative for Auburn to become a charter city, say the city showed poor judgment in hiring the firm because one of its former partners gave the go-ahead for many of the abuses that took place in the charter city of Bell. City officials and councilmembers say they hired a lawyer from the firm because she has provided excellent representation to the city for over two decades in redevelopment issues. Best, Best and Krieger is one of the largest municipal law firms in the state with more than 200 lawyers in offices throughout California and Washington, D.C, according to its website. One former partner, Edward Lee, served as the city attorney to the City of Bell and was fired after it was revealed that he approved contracts that paid top administrators some of the highest salaries in the nation. The firm and Lee have been sued by Bell because of the decisions he made. Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Preserve Auburn ? No on Measure A, said with the countless lawyers available, he isn?t sure why the city had to hire Best, Best and Krieger. ?You are talking about a troubling pattern. Here it is that you are saying, ?trust us with these broad, sweeping powers and, by the way, we are going hire the law firm linked to the worst charter city scandal in history. It?s troubling,? Stenhouse said. ?There are a lot of issues with this charter going all the way back to the lack of public review. It?s something for people to be aware of.? Bob Richardson, Auburn city manager, said the city has specifically hired Iris Yang from Best, Best and Krieger, who has provided legal counsel on the city?s redevelopment for two-plus decades. He said Yang was previously with the law firm, McDonough, Holland and Allen, which closed down during the recession. ?The city has merely continued its relationship with Ms. Yang, who is one of the top experts in her field,? Richardson said. ?She has served the city well for over two decades.? Mayor Kevin Hanley said Yang is one of the best redevelopment lawyers in the state, and she helped guide the city though the first phases of the Streetscape project. He said the opponents of Measure A are smearing her reputation. ?I am not surprised the Sacramento-funded No on A campaign would continue to use McCarthy-like tactics to demean good people,? Hanley said. ?They are trying to say, ?guilt by association.? It is unfair to her.? Hanley said he is confident Yang is the best person to represent the city as it tries to keep as many redevelopment funds in Auburn as possible. ?We are continuing our 20-year association with the best redevelopment attorney in the State of California to protect as much of Auburn taxpayers? money as we can from going to the state.? Hank Gonzales, of Auburn, and a previous mayor of Auburn, said the city?s choice to hire Best, Best and Krieger highlights why voters should vote no on Measure A. ?First they crafted a city charter full of loopholes that invite Bell-style corruption to our community. Then they spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a frivolous and failed lawsuit to try and keep the public from finding out. And now, they?ve taken the extra step of spending even more taxpayer dollars hiring the law firm that green-lighted the charter abuses in Bell,? Gonzales said. ?I couldn?t make a more compelling case for why Measure A should be soundly rejected by voters if I tried.? Councilmember Mike Holmes said Lee?s decisions in Bell don?t necessarily have anything to do with Yang?s capability to represent Auburn in redevelopment issues. ?I think to smear one attorney on something that was done in another office in the state of California is a pretty low blow,? Holmes said. ?A cheap shot.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.