Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

It could take up to three months for the City’s recently hired advisor to complete his review of potential ethical violations and return with a report.

Council’s upcoming meeting on Dec. 15 includes a proposed scope of work, timeline and budget for the analysis.

The Council recently authorized hiring an independent advisor to address concerns about the way the city has handled ethics complaints related to the Oaks Initiative and the hiring/firing of Elizabeth Riel. In both cases, local advocates argued the City’s actions have eroded public trust and potentially violated standards of behavior.

“The outside advisor will conduct an independent and balanced review of city practices and how they align with good governance principles of accountability, transparency, responsiveness, and the highest ideals of public service,” said the staff report.

John Hueston was chosen from among several potential candidates. He is a former division chief and assistant U.S. attorney. In his application, he said he had investigated Enron as part of a national task force, worked on corruption cases for the county of San Bernardino that resulted in criminal prosecutions, and has worked for multiple other municipal agencies.

“As a former public servant, I find it extremely rewarding to work with public governments and agencies to identify problems and craft solutions for better governance and process,” said Hueston.

At the time of the decision, staff said the first order of business would be for Hueston to determine the scope of his own work.

“Mr. Hueston has provided a proposed scope of work for the independent review that would take place over a 75 to 90 day period,” said the staff report. “His work would focus on five phases or areas: 1. Review of events and processes pertaining to the Elizabeth Riel matter 2. Assessment of the Oaks Initiative and efficacy of existing laws, rules and procedures 3. Identification of municipal “best practices” 4. Drafting a report summarizing the review and recommendations for implementation of best practices 5. Presentation of findings to Council. The scope of work would be an amount not to exceed $400,000 with a 5% contingency.”

Hueston said the City of Santa Monica enjoys a very involved constituency with the highest expectations for good governance and transparency.

“My challenge will be to listen to all opinions but retain an independent focus,” he said.

According to Hueston, he has already begun to work.

“I have already solicited input from members of the public and intend to continue to do so,” he said. “I have also reviewed submissions to the City Council and presentations by members of the public to date to ensure that I understand the full ambit of public concern.”

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