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The City will incrementally pay higher rates for attorney services over the next two and a half years

PMG FILE PHOTO - West Linn's City Council voted 3-2 in favor of renewing the contract with City Attorney Tim Ramis. After spending an estimated 80 hours discussing the City's legal services structure earlier this year, the West Linn City Council approved a new city attorney contract.

The deal was reached with City Attorney Tim Ramis and his firm, Jordan Ramis PC, at a meeting Aug. 5, despite disapproval from Mayor Russ Axelrod and Councilor Jules Walters.

The new contract includes incremental raises to the rates of pay for Ramis and his affiliates for the next two and a half years. For the rest of the year, Ramis and other lawyers at the firm will be paid $265 an hour and paralegals $195 an hour. In 2020, the City will pay $305 an hour for lawyers and $205 for paralegals. In 2021, hourly rates will raise to $345 for lawyers and $215 for paralegals.

The City's most recent contract with Jordan Ramis PC, which was adopted in 2015, spelled out incremental raises as well, specifying a rate through 2017, when the City would pay $225 an hour for lawyers and $185 an hour for paralegals.

Axelrod and Walters opposed adopting the contract because they felt not enough research had been done on the rates for legal services with other firms in the area.

"If you look at municipal attorneys and legal services, you find that they tend to be below $300 an hour. So, I think it's important that the council and the City takes a hard look at the options that we have before us as we consider, particularly the tough budget constraints that we'll be facing in the next several years," the mayor said. "The council would be irresponsible not to issue a request for a proposal to see what firms are out there, what their rates are and what individuals are out there and what their rates are."

Councilors Bill Relyea, Richard Sakilek and Teri Cummings disagreed, citing the extensive hours the council has already worked on restructuring legal services within the City.

"This argument about we need to not do anything with the current contract or renew the contract because we want to go out for an RFP or we're somehow or another not doing our due diligence I think is a horrible thing to say. I think it's erroneous," Relyea said. "We've worked on this for a half-year and I have to say that we've worked on it for probably 70 or 80 hours and I think it's time that we move forward with the contract."

During the discussions, Axelrod brought up the possibility of hiring an in-house city attorney, an idea that was debated at length during previous legal services discussion and strongly opposed by Sakilek and Cummings. Axelrod said many cities are making the switch from a contracted attorney to in-house legal services.

The City has proposed a ballot measure for this fall which would amend the City Charter to state that an in-house attorney could never be hired by the city manager. The amendment is intended to cement the council's authority over the City's legal services, ensuring that attorneys and other legal advisors could not serve in-house at the discretion of the city manager.

"I vaguely recall that we already decided the question of whether to have an outside contract or inside was already voted on and discussed and we don't usually relitigate that type of thing," Cummings said.

The new contract also states that the City Attorney will not have to regularly attend council work sessions or planning commission meetings as he has in the past, to save the City those billable hours.

Though the contract will take effect when signed by the Ramis firm, Axelrod and City Manager Eileen Stein, it leaves room for the City to terminate the deal at any time.

At the Aug. 5 meeting, the council also discussed updating the city's policies around nuisance vegetation and right of way maintenance and adopting a new grant policy for neighborhood associations. Discussion on the parks and recreation master plan was postponed until the council's next meeting Sept. 9 to allow time for the City to properly prepare for the hearing and allow citizens to prepare as well.

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