Officials Stay Mum on Situation Involving Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne & More News

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Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne has been on paid administrative leave for more than three months, and the mayor, along with city officials, are staying silent on the circumstances of the situation.

Calonne responded to Noozhawk this week with, “I have no comment.”

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He was placed on paid administrative leave after an undisclosed incident with another attorney inside the City Attorney’s Office, multiple sources told Noozhawk in August. The City Council made the decision to put him on leave in a closed-session meeting the morning of July 25.

Later, multiple sources told Noozhawk that the interaction between Calonne and the other attorney was heated and argumentative. The incident, observed by others, was reported to the city Human Resources Department.

The city attorney is one of two staff positions for which the City Council directly hires and oversees, along with the city administrator.

Mayor Randy Rowse told Noozhawk that he is the official “spokesperson” for the situation.

“It’s still an ongoing personnel issue,” Rowse said. “He is still on leave.”

When asked when the situation might be resolved, or when the city would release public information, Rowse responded: “I am guessing not for a few weeks, but probably before the end of the year,” noting that he was guessing. “It’s still an internal investigation.”

City Administrator Rebecca Bjork would not comment on the situation, and Human Resources Director Wendy Levy did not respond to Noozhawk inquiries.

Since Calonne’s absence, questions in the community have swirled, amid no answers from the city.

Former Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, who was the runner-up in the 2017 mayor’s race and later moved out of town, said the city should release more public information.

“Ariel’s position is one of the most important in city government, next to the city administrator and the council at large,” said Hotchkiss, who now lives in Savannah, Georgia. “As such, it would behoove Santa Barbarans to know his future. It would be best to air publicly the conditions which led to his suspension, and the possible outcome.”

Hotchkiss said Calonne was always a “sharp, strong-willed city attorney with a consumate knowledge of the law” and that he was “very helpful in keeping the City Council legally on track.”

He said that at times Calonne seemed intent on steering council direction, “which we resisted.”

“Regarding his suspension from active duty, this was a rare — unheard of — action which must have thrown the City Attorney’s Office into confusion and chaos,” Hotchkiss said. “That’s not good for proceeding with legal matters affecting the city.”

Hotchkiss said “a graceful departure in retirement might be the best choice.”

Assistant City Attorney Sarah Knecht is the acting city attorney.

Calonne, 63, was hired in 2014 and earns about $280,000 a year. He previously worked as the city attorney in Ventura.

— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Officials Stay Mum on Situation Involving Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne

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