California city lawyer tries to collect two paychecks

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The city of Alameda, California is trying to sort out a legal loophole in which its own city attorney is planning on moonlighting by taking a second city attorney’s job in Barstow, California, over 400 miles away, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Teresa Highsmith, 55, took the top legal job in Barstow on Dec. 20 even though she’s under contract with Alameda, currently earning $191,568 per year. Her salary in Barstow was not disclosed, because she is employed through a law firm, Colantuono & Levin, which has a contract with Barstow to provide its legal services.

According to Barstow’s 2011 budget, it plans on spending $160,000 for legal services.

Highsmith claims that her contract with Alameda has no provisions that would prevent her from working for another city. She said her contract allows her to work 10 hours per month on other assignments.

She said she was planning on working part-time for Barstow, and full time for Alameda through April, at which time she planned to begin collecting her public employee retirement benefits.

After the Alameda city council learned of her deal to represent Barstow, it voted unanimously to immediately put her on paid, indefinite administrative leave.

We were blindsided,” said City Councilwoman Lena Tam. “We’re not sure what happened. Right now we’re still in a fact-finding mode.”

Tam and Highsmith were at odds over the last year, after Highsmith had the popular councilwoman investigated on corruption charges that she leaked sensitive information to a developer that was proposing to build a massive housing development at the former Alameda Naval Air Station.

Highsmith hired the Colantuono & Levin firm at a cost of $60,000 to investigate the matter, although the Alameda County attorney general’s office decided to not pursue action against Tam. She was later criticized for turning in a legal bill to the city for $44,000 even though she was never contacted through the investigation.

Highsmith is the second Alameda official to be placed on paid administrative leave in the last 30 days.

On Dec. 28, the city council voted to place interim city manager Ann Marie Gallant on paid leave. Citing confidentiality rules, city officials would not give any reason for the suspension. Gallant, 53, whose contract runs through March 31,  is currently earning a $285,000 annual salary.

San Francisco Chronicle

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