City Attorney Review Raises Questions About Council Conflicts

Update at 5:30 p.m.: Story now includes a statement from Tom Fuhrman in the ninth paragraph saying h...

Update at 5:30 p.m.: Story now includes a statement from Tom Fuhrman in the ninth paragraph saying he is not involved in any litigation with the city.

The Menifee City Council will meet in closed session prior to its regular meeting of Sept. 3 to continue discussion regarding the city attorney position.

Julie Biggs (left) of the law firm Aleshire & Wynder has served as interim city attorney since Dec. 11, 2012, when she was hired by a newly configured city council following city elections the month before. With new Mayor Scott Mann recusing himself from the process and council member John Denver abstaining, Biggs was approved by a 3-0 vote of council members Wallace Edgerton, Tom Fuhrman and Greg August.

Biggs replaced Joseph Fletcher, who resigned after the newly constituted council was seated, as did City Manager Bill Rawlings. The positions of city attorney and city manager are the only ones the city council can fire -- and such changes are common after a change in the makeup of a city council.

An Aug. 23 closed session of the city council addressed an agenda item described as "pursuant to public employment - city attorney." The meeting was called to order at 8:45 a.m. but was not declared adjourned until after 4 p.m., with no reported action taken.

The length of that meeting and the fact the item is being addressed again in closed session this Wednesday indicates that the decision process regarding the future of Biggs and any potential successor has become a complex one. Because results of the closed session were not made public, it is not known whether a vote was taken regarding a permanent city attorney.

One issue concerns the council members who would be voting and whether any would recuse themselves from the process.

Mann recused himself in the 2012 vote to approve Biggs, saying at the time he "didn't want to have any perception of bias or conflict of interest" because of a prior working relationship with Biggs. Both Mann and Biggs were state delegates to the Republican party that year. According to the government code, Mann would not be required to recuse himself in this matter because more than 12 months have passed, however.

There is no evidence of a conflict involving Denver, who abstained from voting in the selection process for Biggs in 2012.

Fuhrman was previously involved in a dispute with the city regarding code enforcement actions concerning his Wooden Nickel Ranch. Fuhrman said Tuesday "there is no litigation" involving himself and the City of Menifee and that "the only area where there is an issue of compliance is some illegal structures on my property, and that should be taken care of soon."

Asked about a potential conflict of interest in any vote taken Wednesday, Fuhrman said this week he would not recuse himself and would vote on the matter.

"All the action taken against me was by special counsel, not the city attorney," Fuhrman said. "She (Biggs) is the one who fel