RIALTO - The City Council will evaluate behind closed doors the performance of its city attorney, who is handling legal efforts to clean up contamination of the city's drinking water.

It is not clear if the council will take any action involving Bob Owen, who also had a hand in the city's court battle to eliminate its Police Department.

Mayor Grace Vargas said Monday that the city has spent too much on legal costs.

"And I think now is the time for the change," she said.

Rialto has a contract through 2010 with Owen and his small law firm to serve as city attorney.

The contract paid the firm $729,402 when it was signed in 2003. That amount increases by 2 percent a year.

The cost of breaking the contract now is $500,000.

Owen did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

"Obviously, the mayor is a little bit ahead of me, but I think there's going to be some - probably some frank discussions," said Councilman Ed Scott. "All options are open."

Owen, who has been city attorney for more than 15 years, has overseen the city's legal efforts to get contamination of the local drinking water cleaned up. The city has spent about $20 million on that effort. Only about $3 million of that money has been spent on treatment for the primary contaminant, perchlorate. The council has authorized an audit of all the perchlorate expenses, but it has not yet been released.

In 2005, the City Council voted to replace

the Police Department with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department - a decision it later reversed after a tough legal battle in which the city had to hire a Bay Area law firm. The city lost the court fight against its police officers union on a legal technicality because city officials did not meet with the union before voting to eliminate the department.

"I think there's just a number of issues that I intend to address with litigation, legal fees and those kinds of things," Scott said.

On Friday, Councilwoman Winnie Hanson said she would not support an effort to remove Owen.

"I'm very satisfied with our city attorney," she said.

"There's always times when people are going to second guess everything."

She characterized what she thought the discussions would be about: "We're looking at not so much performance but values and do we or do we not need a bigger or better or different-type representation."

She also said there are "developments" within Owen's professional life that she said are "exciting" but did not elaborate.

Vargas said it was Owen's responsibility to keep the city from spending so much on perchlorate.

"And I guess most of us are in agreement on that."

To get the latest

What: The City Council meets in closed session before its council meetings. When the meeting starts, it reports any actions that took place in closed session.

When: 6 p.m. tonight

Where: City Hall, 150 S. Palm Ave.