After a career spanning 41 years with the city of Menlo Park, City Attorney Bill McClure has announced plans to retire sometime in the first quarter of 2020.
He had planned to work just through the end of this year, he told The Almanac, but "as the year's gone on, I haven't had time to think or deal with it."
McClure holds a unique position in the city: As someone with such a long tenure, and as its acting legal expert, he's probably the person with the most institutional and legal knowledge about Menlo Park.
He's been the city's designated attorney for nearly 27 years, since March 1993, and before then, he spent eight years as assistant, then acting, city attorney. And prior to that, he worked under former City Attorney Jack Jorgenson, with the Menlo Park-based law firm now known as Jorgenson, Siegel, McClure & Flegel.
And he grew up in Menlo Park, graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1974, and received a law degree with honors at the University of Santa Clara in 1978.
As a freshly minted law school graduate, he ran into Jorgenson at a wedding and explained that he was looking for a job, he said. Jorgenson told him to give him a call, he added, and he followed up.
As a law student, he'd been interested in politics, having worked for a state legislator at a district office, he said. The idea of being involved in politics not as a policymaker or staff person, but someone doing the legal work "kind of fit," he explained. But he also liked working at a private practice for different clients, something he's enjoyed in his career at the law firm.
Over his tenure with the city, he said, it has expanded significantly, with a huge amount of development and redevelopment, a significantly expanded staff and a somewhat larger population. He's seen the closure of the city's three movie theaters, and has seen it through the good and bad economic times. And he's worked with a long list of City Council members.
Over the years, as the economy ebbs and flows, there has been a constant tension related to traffic and growth, he noted.
"We've had councils that have gone back and forth regarding their philosophy in terms of trying to limit growth," he said. "Those are constant ebbs and flows over the years."
When asked whether he became frustrated by hearing many of the same topics – grade separations or the Dumbarton rail line, for instance – discussed and debated by different councils, decade after decade, his response was that he's hasn't been troubled by it. "That's my personality style," he said. "I don't get uptight about things."
As a longtime resident of the city where he works, doesn't he ever develop opinions about what should be done in Menlo Park?
"I'm sure there have been some things I ... if I were a decision maker or policy maker, might have had a different policy position than where (the council) ended up," he said. "The nice thing about being city attorney is that I really don't have opinions on those kinds of things.
"I've tried not to have opinions about issues," he continued. "What I can do is tell (council members) the history of something that's been done before, what happened the previous time an idea maybe came up ... so they're aware of the pros and cons of something."
As for some examples of the work he's most proud of, he mentioned a number of the city's most legally complex challenges over the past decades: closing the landfill and converting it into Bedwell Bayfront Park, assembling the parcels and getting public benefits at the site where Kepler's and Cafe Borrone are located, developing an agreement to have developer John Arrillaga help build new facilities at the city's Civic Center campus, updating the housing element, and negotiating development agreements with the Bohannon Group and Facebook.
"It's nice to have been a big part of those things," he said.
He said he plans to continue working at his private practice with the law firm, spend more time with grandchildren and travel. And he'll continue to offer legal and historical context to those who ask.
Is he worried about how councils will fare without his presence at every meeting to offer that context?
"I'm absolutely convinced they'll do just fine," he responded. "In my experience, people will reach out and ask questions … . I'm not moving away, just down the street."
Picking a successor
The City Council met on Monday, Dec. 2, in a closed session to talk about recruitment for the next city attorney.
Resident Lynne Bramlett submitted a memo to the council urging it to consider an open search process, and to explore the possibility of moving the city attorney position in-house as opposed to contracting with a law firm as it currently does. The step might save the city money, she suggested, and she indicated a number of other cities in San Mateo County, or of a similar size to Menlo Park, that have in-house city attorneys, such as Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, San Bruno and Danville.
The city currently pays McClure a part-time salary of $11,000 per month under an amended contract adopted last March. It also pays $250 an hour for legal services from McClure's law firm, and $125 an hour for work by paralegals, law clerks and legal assistants.
On development projects, applicants pay the firm $400 an hour for services from an attorney and $275 an hour for work done by paralegals, law clerks and legal assistants.
According to Mayor Ray Mueller, "The City Council is committed to an open and transparent process in the selection of a new city attorney and is presently weighing whether to proceed with legal services provided by a contract form or bring the city attorney position in house."
If the council chooses to contract with a law firm, it will publish a request for proposals and obtain bids, and if it opts to bring an attorney in-house instead, the job opportunity will be published and go through a candidate selection process, he added.