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Santa Monica Hires Former U.S. Prosecutor as 'Chief of Staff' for City Attorney's Office

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 16, 2018 -- Santa Monica City Attorney Lane Dilg announced Thursday the hiring of a top former U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutor to act as Special Counsel/Chief of Staff for her office.

George Cardona, who was a Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, will start in his new job on February 20th, Dilg said.

His salary will be $253,872 annually, or $21,156 a month.

Cardona will assist Dilg with “office management and high-priority legal matters,” the City’s Communication’s Office said in a statement announcing the new hire.

“George Cardona has earned the respect of the legal community as a first-rate litigator with an unparalleled commitment to public service and the rule of law,” Dilg said in the statement. “I am so pleased to welcome him to Santa Monica.

Like Cardona, Dilg was with the U.S. Attorney for the Central District. She was hired as City Attorney in June of 2017 (at $283,872) ("Senior Counsel to UCLA Named Santa Monica City Attorney," June 28, 2017).

She replaced Marsha Moutrie, who retired at the end of 2016 after more than two decades in the post ("Retiring Santa Monica City Attorney Bids Farewell," December 15, 2016).

Cardona is being hired “in lieu of” the Assistant City Attorney position held by Joe Lawrence, who was briefly interim City Attorney after Moutrie’s departure and then also retired after three decades on the job ("Lawrence Picked as Santa Monica Interim City Attorney," December 9, 2016).

Lawrence’s pay as Assistant City Attorney was $275,868 in 2016, the most recent year available in Transparent California, a statewide database of public-sector salaries and benefits.

Cardona was Chief Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California from 2002 to 2015, overseeing approximately 250 attorneys in an office responsible for more than 19 million residents across Southern California.

The City Attorney’s Office has a staff budgeted to reach just under 50 positions by next fiscal year, and a budget that stands at $11.8 million -- among the highest of peer cities.

It is also the target of City Hall fiscal critics, who note the City Attorney’s Office has long been among the biggest spenders of its kind in California, with pay and benefits that exceed counterparts in other California municipalities.

With an activist bent, the City Attorney’s Office has been on the forefront of many legal issues, including an aggressive fight to stop Airbnb-type home-sharing businesses from operating without restrictions and an ongoing fight against a Voting Rights lawsuit that would force district voting for the City Council, instead of the current “at-large” method.

Still, the hiring comes as City Hall watchers are intensifying calls for city government to slow -- or even cut -- spending.

The City’s 2017-2019 biennial budget of $1.57 billion is its largest ever ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Record Budget," June 29, 2017).

Like cities throughout California, Santa Monica is already bracing for red ink in the near future, much of it tied to looming, and rapidly rising, unfunded employee pensions -- $461 million in the City’s case ("City of Santa Monica's Unfunded Pension Costs Jump 20 Percent," January 16, 2018).


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