First published in the Nov. 13 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The airport’s replacement terminal. Police department lawsuits. Coronavirus pandemic policies.
After spending a decade as Burbank’s city attorney, Amy Albano has seen it all. But after a year in which, she said, she worked the hardest she has ever worked, city hall’s top lawyer retired Friday. The first woman to serve as city attorney in Burbank, Albano’s departure capped a legal career spanning more than 30 years. Joe McDougall, until recently the chief assistant city attorney, succeeded Albano following last week’s unanimous City Council vote.
As city attorney, Albano and 11 other attorneys counseled other municipal departments on various legal matters ranging from human relations to compliance with COVID-19 requirements. Albano — who was on-call for the City Council during meetings — has also helped explain the ramifications of changes to state laws.
“Every day it’s something else, and it’s always something new,” she said in an interview. “I’ll come in with a list of things I want to do that day, and nine times out of 10, that’s not what I spend my time on. … Something happens and you’re putting out fires all day. That’s the nature of the business.”
Albano explained that she loved to talk as a young girl, and that her relatives often told her that she was going to be a lawyer one day — though she didn’t know what that word meant at the time. But growing up watching “Perry Mason,” she took to the idea of becoming an attorney.
Eventually, she did. After graduating from Albany Law School of Union University in New York, Albano joined the city attorney’s office in Ventura, where she spent 14 years. She then served seven years as Thousand Oaks’ city attorney but pivoted to lead Burbank’s team of lawyers in 2011. Then-city attorney Dennis Barlow had retired, and she was drawn to Burbank’s larger staff and status as a full-service city.
Albano faced a full docket upon her arrival to Burbank. The Burbank Police Department was facing multiple lawsuits at the time, and tense negotiations between the city and the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority were underway. A decade later and despite advances by both the city and the authority, Albano lamented, the airport still does not have a replacement terminal.
More recent topics have kept the city attorney’s office busy. Albano and her team found themselves facing a number of new legal issues as health orders seemed to come daily from higher levels of government.
“I hope at some point each level of government stops and looks back, because I think the government failed — in many respects — at the state and the county level,” Albano said. “It was frustrating as a city — we didn’t always have a seat at the table [and] decisions were being made that affected us and our constituents without [our] voice in it.”
Burbank and its leaders will have to grapple with the effects of Sacramento’s decisions in the coming years, Albano believes, particularly regarding housing development. It’s a subject that’ll be a “minefield,” she explained — and sometimes the City Council will find itself in a no-win situation.
In those cases, Albano noted, the job of the city attorney is to give the best legal advice possible to the council, helping its members to understand the consequences of their decisions while helping its decision be as legally sound as possible.
Albano said she’d like to believe that most of her advice to the council has been accurate, though she acknowledges that she is not perfect. But, she added, “I think that you’re better off making a decision and moving forward than to do nothing. … There’s not a lot of time to regret decisions that are made.”
The former city attorney is not spending any more Tuesday nights helping the City Council make its decisions. Soon, she will be leaving California for North Carolina, where she and her husband plan to retire and enjoy the outdoors and go on regular kayaking trips.
Albano said she’ll miss her “Burbank family,” crediting her office’s team for their efforts over the past decade. Her successor, McDougall, helped her shape the city attorney’s office and shares many of her values, she explained. They both, according to Albano, believe in doing the right thing rather than necessarily the expedient thing, and in mentoring the people they work with.
Beyond her own office, Albano also said she’ll miss working with the City Council and other departments, as well as the businesses and nonprofits throughout Burbank.
“The thing … I really love about working for a city is [that] you are working with all these other people [who] are intelligent, and we are all working toward the same goals — we all want what is best for the city and our constituents,” Albano said. “I would never have been successful if my team was not successful.”