RIVERSIDE – Provided there are no last-minute challenges to derail the process, Riverside County supervisors are expected to confirm today the appointment of Riverside City Attorney Greg Priamos as the county’s next chief counsel.
The Board of Supervisors last week interviewed Priamos, who arguably has not had an entirely unblemished track record during his 13 years as top legal adviser for the city of Riverside. Nonetheless, each board member came away confident he was the right man for the job, according to Chairman Jeff Stone.
Only one other person was interviewed — Assistant County Counsel Anita Willis. Current County Counsel Pamela Walls is retiring, effective July 29.
Stone praised Priamos for doing a ”remarkable job” beating lawsuits against Riverside. The chairman said the county needs the same strong hand heading its legal department.
”There’s a lot of room for improvement there, and I think Mr. Priamos can implement the kind of changes we need,” Stone told City News Service.
By virtue of his position, Priamos has been associated with questionable activity in city government.
In 2010, after Riverside police Chief Russ Leach was charged with misdemeanor DUI for wrecking a city-owned vehicle while under the influence, allegations surfaced that Priamos was among those in city government aware of an attempted cover-up but did nothing about it. A probe headed by former Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask found no evidence of wrongdoing.
During Priamos’ watch, former Riverside City Manager Brad Hudson and former Assistant City Manager Tom DeSantis obtained semi-automatic handguns directly through the police department, sidestepping state and federal laws that required them to go through a federally licensed gun dealer. The two men later re-purchased the weapons using appropriate methods.
A few years later, several civic groups publicly complained after the city issued municipal records to a media outlet that appeared to rely on DeSantis’s handwritten notes, as opposed to formal logs, per a California Public Records Act request. It was unclear whether DeSantis had sought Priamos’s counsel prior to distributing the documents, which pertained to council members’ and staff’s use of municipal vehicles for potentially unauthorized purposes.
Questions about Priamos’s stance on the city’s practice of transferring money from a utility fund to the general fund without voter approval came up in 2011, when Riverside civic watchdogs Vivian and Javier Moreno challenged the transfers.
The pair eventually sued the city, alleging violations of Proposition 218, a statewide measure passed in 1996 that mandates any proposed increase in local taxes must be approved by a majority of affected voters.
The Morenos argued the annual transfers of utility revenue to the general fund constituted a tax on ratepayers, whose water user fees, they said, were among the highest in the region. The city settled the lawsuit, placing a measure on the June 2012 ballot asking voters to authorize the transfers for the benefit of public safety programs. The measure was approved.
However, according to Vivian Moreno, Priamos has done nothing to ensure that the city returns the $10 million it’s supposed to deposit back into the utility fund under the legal settlement.
”Greg has no problem wasting taxpayers’ money,” Vivian Moreno told City News Service. ”He will keep you in court no matter what the cost. He will just out-spend you. He talks soft. But he’s got muscle.”
The Morenos have chronicled what they deem suspect — if not outright fraudulent activity — by Riverside government officials, including Priamos, on their website: http://thirtymilesofcorruption.com/ .
Priamos declined to discuss anything related to his government tenure until after today’s hearing.
Stone said that when board members interviewed Priamos, they asked him a number of ”tough questions,” and he convinced all of the supervisors that he had ”acted morally and ethically.”
”He has done his best to protect the city of Riverside,” the chairman said, adding that he was particularly ”impressed” by Priamos’ strategy in battling to prevent medical marijuana dispensaries from being established in Riverside.
Despite legal challenges, the California Supreme Court ruled last year that the city had a right to prohibit dispensaries under zoning regulations.