Longtime City of Nogales attorney Michael Massee has been picked to fill the city’s top legal job.
After voting unanimously at their Sept. 10 meeting to appoint Massee to the position, the mayor and council agreed to offer the former deputy city attorney a three-year contract during a special session on Wednesday.
Massee, who was first hired as deputy attorney in 2007, will receive an attractive salary bump along with the new title – his new contract includes annual pay of $120,000, compared to the $98,508 he earned both as a deputy attorney and while serving as interim city attorney since the departure of former City Attorney Luis Parra in April.
That’s more than the $112,000 earned by Parra, but less than former City Attorney Jose Luis Machado’s $123,000 salary.
And he’ll get three months of severance pay if the city chooses not to renew or extend his contract, unless the city notifies him six months in advance.
Massee reportedly emerged from a pool of seven applicants, and speaking at the Sept. 10 council meeting, Mayor Arturo Garino said that “just by looking at the applications, (Massee is) the most highly qualified of all of them.”
However, since the mayor and council decided to appoint Massee without interviewing any other candidates, the public is left in the dark about who else applied for the position.
Garino wouldn’t tell the NI the names of any of the other applicants and the city denied a public records request submitted by the NI for all the city attorney applications.
The mayor defended that decision as both transparent and necessary to protect the privacy of other applicants.
“Some of these people have jobs where they’re at, and it’s not right for us to divulge the names and cause them problems at their jobs,” he said.
“That is transparency,” the mayor added. “We want to be professional about it and we want to be respectful about it, too.”
The city opened the attorney search in March, with the mayor and council saying at the time that they would appoint a search committee to find candidates who would then be considered by the council.
“I want to be transparent, I want to make sure there’s accountability and I want to make sure that we as a council make the right choice for the City of Nogales,” Garino said at the time.
At first, Massee and Parra were the only applicants.
After Parra withdrew his application in May, the city changed the job description and substantially increased the salary range – from $86,900-$121,743 to $130,000-$150,000 – in an attempt to attract more candidates.
In July, Garino told the NI that Massee was the only remaining candidate and that, if no other applications were received, he would consider filling the position by appointment.
The city did receive more applications, but the mayor and council went ahead and appointed Massee anyway.
It’s not the first time the city has cut a hiring process short and appointed one of its own.
In February 2018, after hiring a consulting firm to recruit candidates for city manager, the council called off the search and gave the job to Frank Felix.
Felix was former Mayor John Doyle’s executive assistant and had been serving as interim city manager.
Felix resigned July 3, the same day that a city council meeting exposed divisions among the councilmembers about his future at City Hall. The mayor and council have again vowed to conduct a comprehensive search for his replacement.
Not public records
In February, the council passed a resolution designating a “preferred candidate” for the city magistrate position without naming the candidate.
The NI then requested the names of final candidates, citing the 1991 decision in Board of Regents v. Phoenix Newspapers, in which the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Arizona State University had to provide the names of finalists in its presidential search to local newspapers.
After that request, the city released a list of finalists for the magistrate job.
In regard to the attorney applications, the city asserted that none of the job applicants were “finalists” since the council did not conduct any interviews.
“Per our legal department, the applications are not deemed public records unless they become or move on to be finalists in the recruitment process. At this time, no application proceeded beyond the application stage,” city Human Resources Director Carmen Fuentes wrote in an email to the NI.
The person providing that legal opinion was Massee himself. He added that he didn’t know who the other applicants were.