SR's city attorney a lightning rod for controversy

  • Santa Rosa City Attorney Caroline Fowler in the City Hall Council Chambers.
    (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat)

Like the city she serves, Caroline Fowler has been through a lot this past year.

Santa Rosa’s city attorney has found herself at the center of some highly public and unusually rancorous clashes with the city’s elected council members, who are her bosses.

She has been criticized for shouting down a city councilman during a public council meeting.

She’s been vilified for the guidance she gave to council members in the wake of the Andy Lopez shooting.

And she has been branded “rogue” for what one councilwoman calls her incorrect interpretation of state open-meeting laws.

Later this month the City Council, the majority of which strongly supports its embattled attorney, will meet behind closed doors to try to root out — possibly with the help of a mediator — the resentments that continue to fester between Fowler and her council critics.

The 56-year-old mother of two boys says she has done her best to remain professional in the face of what she contends is unprecedented and unfair criticism. She said she works hard to offer evenhanded legal advice and useful information to help city leaders make good decisions.

“Everything I’ve said or done has been out of a desire to help the city or protect the city,” Fowler said. “That’s what I care about.”

Nevertheless, Fowler has emerged as a powerful and now polarizing figure at City Hall during a key period of transition.

In previous periods of upheaval, Fowler was a reassuring, stabilizing force, said former Councilman John Sawyer. There were times, Sawyer said, when he viewed her as the “de facto city manager.”

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