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The City Council will hire an in-house city attorney for day-to-day legal service needs.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The West Linn City Council will hire an in-house city attorney and keep contracting with other legal firms for specialized needs. After a decade of discussion and three ballot measures on the matter, the West Linn City Council has decided to alter the structure of city legal services.

The council unanimously decided at a special meeting Monday, Nov. 21, that the city should operate under a "hybrid" model with an in-house city attorney reporting to the City Council, as well as contracted firms for specialized legal matters. "My primary goal is that we have a service that is in the best interest of this council, the staff and the community," Councilor Todd Jones said. "My goal is that we have legal services that are delivered efficiently and effectively and I believe this change will help make that happen."

The city has long contracted with the Lake Oswego-based law firm Jordan Ramis PC for most of its legal services. According to the firm's website, Jordan Ramis PC has one of the largest local government law practices in the region, providing services to municipalities all over the Northwest. West Linn also occasionally contracts with other firms for specialized services like negotiating labor contracts.

From 2012 to 2018, West Linn also had an assistant city attorney who provided day-to-day counsel for city staff. That attorney reported to the city manager, which was a point of contention for prior councils.

The council will discuss the process for hiring a new city attorney at a coming work session, and in the meantime it will continue to receive counsel from Jordan Ramis and its other contracted attorneys.

Based on an analysis of the legal systems of neighboring municipalities and other similar-sized cities in Oregon, the council determined that the in-house model could save money and best meet the city's needs.

Prior to voting on the new legal structure, the council heard testimony from citizens and former members of council in support of the hybrid model.

Former Mayor Russ Axelrod said the city's current structure is too costly and unsustainable.

Primarily from Jordan Ramis, which charges about $350 per hour, the city spent $561,000 on legal services in the 2022 fiscal year. Human Resources Director Elissa Preston estimated the city would spend about $225,000 per year on the salary and benefits for a full-time in-house attorney.

Councilors acknowledged that some members of the public would be upset with the decision.

"We can't please everyone all the time," Mayor Jules Walters said. "But I want to give this the chance to work and show people that this is perhaps the best way to go for the city, even though they are worried it won't be. I wouldn't be voting in the positive if I didn't believe this was the best thing for West Linn now."

Throughout the discussion, councilors made clear that they want the in-house city attorney to report directly to council, not the city manager. The City Charter states the city's chief legal officer should report to the City Council.

Councilor Bill Relyea even suggested that the city attorney receive an office and support staff similar to the city manager's to make it clear neither is above the other in the city hierarchy.

Council President Rory Bialostosky promised the hiring process for the new attorney would include opportunities for the public to vet candidates and provide input.


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