RIALTO - The City Council has decided to terminate the contract of city attorney Bob Owen.

City Administrator Henry Garcia announced the decision following a 3-2 vote by the council in closed session.

Mayor Grace Vargas and council members Joe Baca Jr. and Ed Scott voted to fire Owen. Council members Winnie Hanson and Deborah Robertson voted against.

Owen was not present during the open session of the Tuesday council meeting.

Following weeks of rumblings that Owen's job could be in jeopardy, a review of his performance appeared on the closed-session agenda for Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Vargas said Monday that the city was spending too much money on legal fees.

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

Owen has taken public stances on two significant issues facing the city in recent years - drinking-water contamination and the council's failed attempt to replace the Rialto Police Department with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

At public meetings, Owen has vocally defended the strategy by the city to get perchlorate cleaned out of drinking water - even as the price tag for the city's efforts has approached $20 million.

In 2005, the City Council voted to eliminate the Police Department, but the officers union won a court battle.

The union claimed the city violated state law by not following procedures to eliminate the department. The court ruled on the

union's behalf.

Owen was the city attorney at the time the council took up the matter.

Owen and his San Bernardino-based firm have a contract with the city that expires in 2010.

The contract requires the city to pay $500,000 to end it early.

When it was signed, the contract called for Owen's firm to be paid $729,402 a year, in addition to 2 percent annual increases.


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