A City Attorney's Controversial Tenure Comes to an Abrupt End

After seven tumultuous years, Eureka tand Day-Wilson agree to a 'mutual parting'

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The Eureka City Council "received and accepted" the resignation of City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson on Tuesday after a hastily called closed session meeting to discuss the potential firing or discipline of an employee.

In making the announcement, Mayor Frank Jager thanked Day-Wilson for her service, saying the separation was effective immediately and includes a yet-to-be-finalized resignation agreement.

After the meeting convened Tuesday, without Day-Wilson present, the council talked in closed session for about 20 minutes before City Manager Greg Sparks emerged and asked Larry Kluck, an attorney representing Day-Wilson, to talk in his office.

Sparks said later that he and Kluck were discussing the terms of the agreement, which he said will be made available once the arrangement was "formalized." Asked when that might be, the city manager said he didn't have a time line but it should be "soon."

Kluck was not immediately available for comment.

Tuesday's meeting came exactly a week after the council met in closed session to review Day-Wilson's job performance. Sparks described Day-Wilson's exit as a "mutual parting," saying her resignation "was offered and accepted" by the council, which was in "consensus" on the matter.

Day-Wilson's last day on the job was Monday.

Contacted after the meeting, council members declined to speak about their decision to part ways with Day-Wilson, who's acted as the city's in-house attorney for seven years.

Asked why the council generally felt it needed a new direction in the city attorney's office, Councilmember Austin Allison wouldn't say much.

"There's so many things — I just don't know if I can say them. I think I can't," he said. "It's a personnel matter, so we have to keep things confidential."

Councilmembers said plans are being made now to make sure Day-Wilson's duties and workload are covered, and possibly to contract with an interim city attorney until the city can determine its next steps.

"Rest assured that it's all under control," Councilmember Marian Brady said.

Allison pointed out that some of the city's larger cases — like its years-long litigation against local landlords Floyd and Betty Squires — are being handled by outside counsel.

Day-Wilson's seven-year tenure with the city of Eureka was marked by controversy. In 2014, at her direction, the council retracted and watered down a letter of apology to the Wiyot Tribe for Eurekans' involvement in the 1860 massacre of women and children. That same year she was accused of lying to councilmembers about — and attempting to bully city hall employees into covering up — a breach of confidential information.

From 2014 through 2017 Day-Wilson led a lengthy and expensive court battle against the North Coast Journal to prevent the disclosure of dash camera footage of a Eureka police officer allegedly assaulting a juvenile. In 2016 she drew the public ire of a city councilmember for allegedly refusing to agendize a shelter crisis declaration. That same year, she refused to comply with this paper's California Public Records Act request and publicly accused the Journal of conspiring to aid an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. And last year, she signed off on a press release that included an unsubstantiated accusation that a local landlord had traded promises of lodging for sexual favors.

She also proposed and oversaw the transition of Eureka's elections to a "true ward" system and changed the city's public records act request policy, dictating that all requests go through her office.

Day-Wilson started her career with the city in 2011 after specializing in environmental law for the firm Best, Best & Krieger LLP in San Diego. According to her LinkedIn profile, she obtained her doctorate from the University of Idaho in 1986, going on to earn an advanced law degree from George Washington University in 1996.

Under the terms of Day-Wilson's employment agreement with the city, she answered directly to the city council, which could opt to terminate her employment at any time, with or without cause. According to that agreement, if fired without cause, Day-Wilson would have been owed a lump sum cash severance equal to six months of salary and benefits, as well as any accrued vacation, holiday or executive leave time. According to the database of public employee salaries, Day-Wilson's total compensation in 2016, the last year for which data is available, was $218,678, meaning her severance pay would have fallen somewhere in the neighborhood of $110,000.

To fire Day-Wilson with cause under the employment agreement, the council would have had to show she willfully breached the terms of the agreement, habitually neglected her duties, committed a crime, willfully violated city policies of a "serious nature" or committed an act of "dishonesty, fraud or other acts of moral turpitude." The agreement further provides that the council would have had to notify Day-Wilson in advance of its intent to fire her with cause and given her the opportunity to argue against the action during a public hearing.

The last time Eureka's city attorney position was vacant, local attorney Bill Bragg filled the role in an interim capacity for about a year until Day-Wilson was hired in November of 2011.

While Allison declined to look back and comment on Day-Wilson's tenure with the city, he was willing to look forward.

"While we start to work on recruitment efforts for another city attorney, I think all the council members have their own wishes and goals," he said. "Mine would be to find someone who is as forward thinking and motivated as the rest of city staff — there's a lot of positive energy going on and I'd love to find someone who can share that energy moving forward."

Editor's note: A version of this story first appeared online June 26.

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