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West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod says he would like to explore other options for legal aid

PMG FILE PHOTO - The structure of legal services for the City of West Linn has been a tenuous topic this year. The structure of legal services for the City of West Linn has been a tenuous topic for much of 2019.

Legal services have long been a key issue, but it reached new levels this year.

The West Linn City Council spent the first six months of the year hashing out different municipal attorney service scenarios with the assistance of a paid facilitator and then approved a contract renewal with the firm of City Attorney Tim Ramis, the city's existing legal representative.

Most recently, the council put before the West Linn voters a third ballot measure regarding City Charter language about legal services.

With the defeat of Ballot Measure 3-552, which would have cemented council authority over legal services and amended the chater to say that the city manager has no authority over such services, what lies ahead for attorney services in West Linn?

Mayor Russ Axelrod said he's interested to see what other attorneys are available, and how their rates compare to what the City currently pays.

"I'm likely to ask council by early next year to consider an RFQ to check in on the cost and the capabilities of available legal services," Axelrod said. "We owe it to our residents and taxpayers to ensure that we are getting the most cost-effective and beneficial legal advice."

The new contract between the City and Jordan Ramis PC, which was adopted in August, spelled out that 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 rise to $345 for lawyers and $215 for paralegals.

The City's previous 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 said he may consider bringing up the idea of changing some of the City's legal services to in-house. He noted, however, that idea may not go very far with the council majority, which has expressed strong opposition to a staff legal position.

The City has not had in-house legal staff since former Assistant City Attorney Megan Thorton resigned in 2018. The City chose not to fill Thorton's position right away due to a tightening budget and to let the council decide how to move forward.

Not allowing the city manager to bring a staff legal position in-house was the council majority's main premise for putting Measure 3-552 on the ballot in November.

Council President Teri Cummings, who supported the measure, has said she is happy with the City's current legal structure.

"I appreciate the depth and range of legal expertise that is available to the City from the City Attorney and his associates who have served our City well for over 25 years," Cummings said.

"Our Charter is still unclear as to whether the City Manager should be allowed to hire and oversee another separate attorney, even though Charter Section 23A requires Council to hire and oversee the City Attorney."


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