Do elections have consequences? Pt. Hueneme City Attorney resigns


Mark Hensley of Hensley Law Group and resigned Port Hueneme City Attorney.

By George Miller

Port Hueneme City Attorney Mark Hensley (no relation to Councilman Jim Hensley) resigned on 11-21-16, offering to stay on until a replacement was installed. His contract calls for 60 days notice. Hensley (First under another foirm, until he started his own in recent years- Hensley Law Group) has been City Attorney for 15 years, is essentially an outsourced legal department. He said he was waiting until a new City Manager was selected, but did not say why that was his trigger to depart.

Hensley was sometimes deployed by the council majority to support positions opposed by the minority (Jim Hensley & Tom Figg). Now that the regular majority bloc of Jon Sharkey, Sylvia Munoz-Schnopp and Doug Breeze (resigned) has been broken up by the addition of Will Berg to replace Doug Breeze, it may be a new ball game.

While Berg does not appear to have an overt alliance with the former minority group, they both supported his candidacy.  It remains to be seen what positions he will take on the issues, although he telegraphed some in debates. A major one is business taxes, which he wants a more collaborative negotiation with businesses on. He said that the approach need more definition and that he thinks the Council would support that approach. Nearly all parties agree that the City is significantly underfunded, even those who opposed the 2014 business tax initiative.

Hensley and Figg rode into office on a wave of opposition to the proposed business tax and a couple of other issues in 2014.

A well-informed source who opted to go unnamed said that Figg and (Jim) Hensley were not fans of Mark Hensley and that his days may be numbered with the shift in the Council make-up. The source added that Mark Hensley particularly didn’t get along with Tom Figg. He also said that Henley hasn’t even been  showing up the last couple of months, instead sending a “pinch-hitter” from his firm. Presumably the stand-in would be much less knowledgeable about the City’s situation.

This same source pointed out some areas of weak legal work, such as when Jon Sharkey voted on Hueneme Beach and Miranda Park agenda items, which he should have recused himself on due to potential conflicts of interest. Sharkey was ultimately fined $3000 for these alleged lapses of judgement. The source said that Hensley should have stepped in and counseled Sharkey to step back, but did not. Another source said that recusal is ultimately up to the official in question, though.  Handling of the Cynthia Haas, Dave Norman and Joe Gately departures were also cited.

Unnamed source #2 incorrectly stated when I asked him about the Joe Gately firing that he had quit.  He said that he had been hoping for a new attorney for a year, that an RFP to find  a new one will likely be discussed at next Monday’s Council meeting and that “Hensley has not been serving the city well legally or financially.” When we asked him how so, he cited the seemingly endless litigation with the port and extra fees charged.

Ousted Housing Director comments:

We received the following from Joe Gately, who was fired by the City of Port Hueneme after sending HUD information on irregularitie which he detected, which led to an audit with unfavorable results and demand for repayment of about $2MM in grant money.

Yes you can quote me. As far as his notice is concerned, though he said he would stick around for the transition, that does not necessarily fulfill the 60 day requirement.  Problem is, the contract is clear while his resignation was vague.  It probably could be argued either way.  Just seems a little problematic to the City to potentially be left high and dry during this transition period.
But with the City improperly procuring legal services this amounts to misuse of legal funds and trust.  It is incumbent on the City to get the best services for the least amount of money, this is why a Request for Proposals (RFP) or a Request for Qualifications RFQ, is required to obligate taxpayers funds for a service the City receives.  There are a lot more rules about this but in the case of legal services for the amounts spent, this RFP/RFQ process is required by law.  Mr. Hensley could be at risk of returning all funds he acquired by this contract if it could be proven that the City hired his services using his own advice.  Not only is this a self-serving conflict of interest, it is illegal.  Thanks.
Other comments:

After 15 years with the Hensley Law Group, it will be exciting to begin the search process for new, vibrant legal representation. – Will Berg, Councilman-elect

The Hensley Law Group has served as City Attorney under a contract arrangement that provides for termination by either party at their independent discretion. I’ve not been informed of the reason why Hensley has chosen to terminate the contract, nor are they required to do so. I wish them well and appreciate their willingness to assist in the transition of legal services. Looking at the upside, it’s a timely opportunity to build a new team with a newly appointed City Manager and backfilling vacant department head positions.- Councilman Tom Figg

When we asked Mark Hensley on Wednesday why is leaving, he said that “there were numerous reasons and the timing was about right.” When asked if the Council election results helped prompt his resignation he relied “not really… it would be best …the city has issues…I was so glad to work with the City for 15 years.”


Text of resignation letter:

November 21, 2016
City Council
City of Port Hueneme
250 North Ventura Road
Port Hueneme, CA 93041
Re: Hensley Law Group Resignation

Dear Council:

It has been my pleasure to serve as the Port Hueneme City Attorney for the past 15 years.
My team and I have been proud to be a part of your City team.
We have waited until the City Council made a decision regarding a permanent City
Manager before sending this letter. Now that has occurred, it seems like a good time to
tender my, and the Hensley Law Group’s, resignation as City Attorney.
If the Council would like to have HLG provide legal services until the City is able to
complete a request for proposal process or would prefer to hire an Interim City Attorney, we will leave this to your discretion. In either event, we will work with the City to effectuate a smooth transition.
We wish the City the best in its future endeavors.

Mark D. Hensley
cc: Carmen Nichols, Interim City Manager

George Miller is Publisher of and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard

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