RICHMOND -- A divided City Council voted to renew the contract of a code enforcement attorney Tuesday, overcoming fierce opposition from a councilman who has been the attorney's most high-profile target.
The council voted 4-2, approving a $175,000 contract to retain Trisha Aljoe to continue her work with the Police Department and code enforcement officials, mostly pursuing legal abatement proceedings against blighted properties and drug houses.
"(Aljoe) is a very important member of our department, and she comes at an extremely low cost," police Chief Chris Magnus said. "She gives us a range of services, and we get lot of value out of her."
But Vice Mayor Corky Boozé disagreed. Boozé, a 69-year-old former race car driver, said the time to cut the city's budget is now. Earlier Tuesday, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay announced that a 14.61 percent decline in the assessed value of properties in Richmond is expected to cost the city $6.1 million in tax revenues this fiscal year. That news came after the city passed a $144 million budget last week.
The city's decline in assessed value was driven largely by a roughly $1 billion drop in the valuation of the Chevron refinery after last summer's fire, according to Contra Costa Assessor Gus Kramer.
"It's time for belt-tightening," Boozé said, adding that he believes the city will have to lay off workers in the coming months.
But residents and council members questioned whether Boozé should even be part of the debate. Boozé and Aljoe have been at odds for months, as Aljoe has built a legal case aimed at forcing Boozé to clean up a property he manages at 22 Carlson Blvd. -- a property filled with dozens of old cars and one the city alleges is an environmental hazard.
"Why is Boozé not recusing himself?" asked Mike Parker, a resident and the editor of the Richmond Progressive Alliance's newsletter. "Everybody knows the white elephant in the room is the dispute between Boozé and the city over his junkyard."
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles asked City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller whether Boozé should recuse himself.
"I am tiptoeing a little bit; I don't want to offend the vice mayor," Goodmiller said. "He didn't ask for my advice, but no, it's not necessarily a conflict of interest."
Boozé also wrangled with Magnus, calling the police chief "disrespectful" for not directly answering his question about "how much money" Aljoe's work has generated for the city.
Lindsay stepped in, noting that code enforcement generated about $1.25 million in revenue last year, and saying Aljoe's work "leads to a lot of those fines."
Councilman Nat Bates, who joined Boozé in dissent, said Aljoe's work was not a priority while the city faces steep deficits.
"We are doing Mickey Mouse work for (a) $175,000 (contract)," Bates said. He also warned Goodmiller that he will be forced to lay off attorneys in his office to help close the deficit.
"Your office is going to take a hit," Bates said. "Mark that down."
Councilman Jim Rogers said the city will have to re-evaluate contracts like Aljoe's in the future as it looks to close the budget shortfall.
"I understand the criticism" of the contract, Rogers said, adding that he supported it Tuesday. "If we need to cut back, we can double back later."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.