Sept. 8, 2004 - Oro Valley Town Attorney Mark Langlitz will no longer serve the town as of Sept. 30, although he insists it is not a case of him leaving so much as seizing a new opportunity.
Langlitz, 48, officially resigned his position with the town Aug. 30 after working 16 months as the chief legal counsel. He will join the staff of County Attorney Barbara LaWall in the civil office Oct. 4., working mainly with transactions and contracts.
"I'm excited about it," he said in an interview Sept. 2. "It's a great opportunity."
Langlitz was hired by Oro Valley at a salary of $85,000 annually in the summer of 2002 to replace Dan Dudley who had been the town attorney for about three and a half years before leaving for medical reasons.
Langlitz said his decision now is not one to leave Oro Valley, but rather to make a positive career move and accept a new challenge. He said he has "greatly enjoyed" his time spent serving the town and his resignation was not an easy decision to make.
Although rumors have circulated that he was perhaps getting a push out the door, Langlitz said he has not felt the shove.
"I'm not getting out of town," he said. "I am joining the county. Before I can do that, I have to leave here."
Those rumors have stemmed from several factors, namely the questioning of Langlitz's opinions by the council and the recent inquiry into how the chain of command works in regards to the attorney.
Some have seen it as Langlitz's expertise being called into question. The Oro Valley Town Council has repeatedly decided to seek additional legal opinions after its own attorney has offered his.
Most recently, the council asked for additional opinions regarding the lawsuit against the town and its clerk Kathi Cuvelier by a citizen's group seeking to place a referendum on the ballot regarding three tax-incentive deals approved by the previous council.
But Langlitz said it is the council's right to seek as many opinions as it needs in order to feel comfortable with its decisions.
"Council is the body charged with making these decisions," he said. "Legal factors are just one factor in a decision and they don't always dictate what is done."
He said sometimes, to the public, it may seem like there is no difference between two decisions to be made, and yet the council will vote one way on one issue and another way on the next, sometimes contrary to his advice.
"Whether people realize it or not, there is usually a reason," Langlitz said about the decisions, although he would not comment specifically on what those reasons might be.
Although new to the council, Connie Culver has worked with Langlitz since he joined the town staff when she was a member of the Development Review Board. She said she has a good relationship with Langlitz.
"He's very personable," she said. "I like him a lot."
She said legal advice does play a large role in the decision-making process and said when the issue is a simple one it is easier to rely on one opinion. However, when the issue is complex or controversial, Culver said "it is good judgment to get more than one opinion," adding that in many cases there are lawyers who specialize in specific areas of the law and are experts who should be consulted.
Councilmember Terry Parish said he has had a "good working relationship" with Langlitz over the past months.
He said the legal opinions given to the council have been "very helpful" but it is hard to reconcile political views with legal facts, at times, and in turn some council members may seek out multiple opinions when legal advice does not mesh with what they think.
"People will sometimes fish for opinions that suit their political views," he said. "But that just doesn't work."
In recent weeks, discussion has also come up at council meetings and retreats that perhaps who the town attorney reports to should be changed, so that instead of reporting first to Town Manager Chuck Sweet, the attorney would work directly for the town council. Councilmember Barry Gillaspie asked at a July 17 retreat that the process be looked at, saying that the majority of Arizona cities and towns do have the attorney work directly under the council.
Culver said she hopes that is one of the items on the agenda to be discussed at the Sept.15 council meeting. Part of that discussion will include how the town attorney is chosen. Currently the position is appointed by the town manager, but Culver said other cities and towns have the council make the appointment.
She said it is a good time to make change is good because the council would not be changing Langlitz's job description. At the same time, she said it is something the council should consider seriously, as many other cities and towns are now doing it this way, according to information gathered by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.
"This is where the council has to go for legal advice," she said. "We need to be assured the decisions we are making are the law."
Parish said while it may turn out that the council does the hiring and firing of the attorney in the future, the town manager will always be an important part of the process. He agreed it is a timely discussion that should happen before the next attorney is offered a contract with the town.
Langlitz said he believes this discussion comes from some residents who have the ear of council members and think that opinions are somehow influenced by the current process.
"People have said, 'If he works for the town manager, he is more likely to be influenced by the town manager.' That's just not the case," he said.
"If the town attorney works directly for the council, there could be the appearance of political sway. Sometimes you just can't win."
A municipal attorney represents the best interests of the residents above and beyond the wishes of the town council or town manager, he said. So to him, the structure would work fine either way.
A recent decision to ask OV Candidates 2004 to refile campaign finance reports is one example of when Langlitz said he had to keep in mind the public interest.
The committee spent more than $18,000, mostly on newspaper advertising, with many of the ads promoting two-year term candidates Conny Culver and K.C. Carter, and four-year candidates Helen Dankwerth, Barry Gillaspie and Richie Feinberg. All but Feinberg were elected
Langlitz at first said it was unlikely he would do anything with an anonymous complaint regarding the committee's activities because of what he said were "obvious conflicts," meaning the candidates in the election could become his bosses if elected.
He said he struggled with what to do about it, but after rereading the lawyer's code of conduct, he decided he had no choice but to request the committee refile as a political committee.
The issue now will go to mediation before former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Stanley Feldman, a move Langlitz said is "fair."
"I think it's a great way to handle it," Langlitz said. "Both sides would like to see this resolved."
Parish said he tried to "stay out of that whole mess" and was not offended by the issue being addressed. He said if there is a legal problem, it needs to be resolves, but if there is not, "the naysayers need to be quiet and let the council go about its business."
Despite any murmurs on his motivation to take a new position, Langlitz said his time spent in Oro Valley has been gratifying.
He said one of the most difficult, and yet most rewarding, moments in his short term with Oro Valley was the very first case he was handed in which the annexation of an area at Magee and Oracle roads, called area B, was challenged by resident Philip Richardson, who petitioned the court to void the annexation
"It was pretty important to the town, to the sales tax revenue," Langlitz said of the area that includes Plaza Escondida and La Entrada shopping centers and commercial areas on both sides of Oracle and Magee roads. The town won the case and was able to annex the area.
Langlitz said his biggest challenge has been working through all of the issues that come with a town that is growing and developing at the pace of Oro Valley, and at the same time he said it is that growth that makes the job so exciting.
He said whoever steps in to take his place "will be an active participant in shaping the town," which he considers to be in its adolescent phase.
He said finding a balance between commercial and other types of development is difficult as the town moves toward its goals of "well-planned development" and the attorney plays a role in facilitating that development.
The job is made easier, he said, by working with the "confident, professional staff" in Oro Valley.
"I would match the management team of Oro Valley up against any management team in any town anywhere," he said of his colleagues.
Langlitz moved to Oro Valley in 2000 with his wife, Rosemary, and three children.
He graduated magna cum laude from Siena College in Albany, N.Y., where he received a bachelor's degree in finance. He received his law degree from the Albany School of Law in 1985 and in the ensuing years served as assistant counsel to the Mayor"s Office in Albany from April 1991 to May 1992, senior counsel to the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. from 1992 to 2000, in-house counsel to Arizona Electric Power Cooperative in Benson from July 2000 to May 2002 and legal consultant for GTI Holdings LLC, a startup biodiesel production business in Phoenix from September 2000 to January 2003.
While working for Albany on a part-time basis, Langlitz also taught business law at a local community college and had his own law practice for about six years.