City Attorney Christi Hogin abruptly resigned Monday amid investigations into possible campaign violations alleged against friends and supporters of the three City Council members who apparently forced her from her position.
The terms of Hogin's departure were agreed to in the council's closed session and were announced at the start of the council meeting. Those terms, to which only Mayor Walt Keller, Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn and Councilman Tom Hasse agreed, include total payments of $227,000. Hogin's last day is Friday, but she agreed to serve as a consultant for the city and the attorney who replaces her.
While Hogin, who has worked for Malibu since its incorporation nine years ago, described her action as a resignation, there were clear signs Monday her decision to leave the city was anything but voluntary.
Councilwoman Joan House, who along with Councilman Harry Barovsky opposed the severance agreement, said in departing remarks to Hogin, "I now have a new definition for resignation." Barovsky described the payment of $227,000 as what the city paid "to have the city attorney leave." And Hogin, who referred all questions about her resignation to Keller, scoffed when asked whether her leaving was voluntary.
Barovsky, in his comments to Hogin, said he was surprised by the turn of events, and members of the public in attendance at the council meeting said they were also caught off guard by the timing of Hogin's departure.
Still, an apparent movement by Keller, Van Horn and Hasse to remove Hogin from her position has been underway for some time.
Shortly after last year's City Council election, Hogin revealed, to vociferous opposition from some in the community, she was investigating the Road Worriers, a political action committee that campaigned for the election of Hasse and the defeat of former Councilman Jeff Jennings. The Road Worriers is headed by Remy O'Neill, who managed Van Horn's last election campaign. The investigation recently blossomed into the filing of criminal charges against O'Neill for alleged campaign finance irregularities.
At the same time Hogin was investigating O'Neill, she was also questioning Gil Segel, head of Malibu Citizens for Less Traffic on PCH, and a close friend and longtime supporter of Van Horn and Keller. Segel is now fighting a subpoena for campaign documents from the state Fair Political Practices Commission and the city.
In the midst of her questioning of O'Neill and Segel last summer, Keller and Van Horn demanded Hogin report the results of her investigation, and they threatened to block her from taking her scheduled vacation unless she produced a report. But the mayor and mayor pro tem could not get a third vote for their demand because House and Barovsky refused to support them, and because Hasse had recused himself from the matter.
In the fall, Keller abruptly asked Hogin, after her almost nine years of employment with the city, to start providing time sheets to account for her workday. Then, earlier this year, Keller, Van Horn and Hasse retained an employment attorney from a top Los Angeles law firm to help with what Keller described as "evaluations" of the city's high-level personnel. But the attorney's hourly rate of $420, combined with her usual practice of representing employers in job-related lawsuits, prompted speculation that she was hired for far more serious matters. The attorney, Nancy McClelland, attended Monday's meeting and departed shortly after Hogin publicly announced her resignation.
Hogin was gracious and composed during her remarks and gave no hint of the bitterness played out behind the scenes.
"I'm proud that after nine years, one can drive from one side of Malibu to the other and it is ever so beautiful and well kept and obviously in the hands of people who love it very dearly…" she said. "It will always be a very important part of my life that I was given the honor and privilege of serving you."
Keller, Van Horn and Hasse praised Hogin's work for the city, but their remarks were undercut by those made by House and by a very somber Barovsky.
At one point, appearing on the verge of tears, Barovsky said, "I will miss you very much." And in a clear allusion to the remarks made by Keller, Van Horn and Hasse, he said, "Out of deference to your last night [at] the City Council, I will not point out the hypocrisy of what has been said," adding, "In my opinion, you have been the city's pinata. I hope that in your next life, you are treated with more respect than the past year has shown you in this community."
Later, on a suggestion by House and Barovsky, a unanimous council agreed to present Hogin with a Malibu Tile, the highest honor bestowed upon a departing employee.