The Merced City Council announced the appointment of new City Attorney Craig Cornwell after a unanimous vote on Monday night. The move ends a vacancy for the official position that has gone on for more than two years.
Cornwell is a former longtime city attorney for Compton, on the south side of Los Angeles County. He worked for Compton for nearly 22 years, including a two-year stint as city manager, until his contract was not renewed. Cornwell has been working at a namesake law firm in Cerritos for the past couple of years, according to his Linkedin page online.
Cornwell will replace Interim City Attorney Brian Doyle who has served since June. The last person to hold the official city attorney title was Phaedra Norton who left Merced in 2021 after nearly three years in office.
Cornwell is expected to start his new position on Dec. 5. His annual compensation is $250,000, plus one-time relocation benefits of $15,000.
Merced city officials are praising Cornwell as a “well-rounded attorney with expertise in various areas, including contract negotiation, law enforcement oversight, civil litigation, criminal prosecution, strategic planning, budget development, and drafting legislation.” They said he was a standout candidate after an extensive search was conducted.
“Cornwell will play a pivotal role in shaping the legal landscape of Merced, ensuring the city’s adherence to the law and advocating for the best interests of its residents,” said Mayor Matthew Serratto in a press release. “Craig is dedicated to maintaining the safety, integrity, and prosperity of the city, and his vast legal knowledge and expertise will be invaluable in achieving these goals.”
The new city attorney was welcomed to Merced on Monday night via a video link. Unfortunately, Cornwell said he was unable to attend the meeting due to the death of his 99-year-old father, a World War II veteran, just a day prior. He did say he was excited and ready to get to work for the residents, city staff, and leaders of Merced.
According to the city’s press release, “Cornwell has a proven track record of providing guidance to municipalities and serving as a valuable legal advisor. His experience includes creating ordinances, resolutions, and legal opinions and providing legal advice and guidance to the City Council, boards, commissions, members of city management, and department heads, directing outside counsel activities and serving as risk manager in relation to outsourced legal work.”