City legal services at a crossroads
Three West Linn City Council members are currently promoting Measure 3-552 to change how legal services are managed.
This would be a disaster for the city. Councilors Cummings, Sakelik and Relyea claim that it will reduce attorney costs, which is not the case.
It will actually increase costs and impact oversight of legal services. The measure would remove all connections between the City Manager and our contract City Attorney and place all legal services under the purview of the City Council.
This is the City Council that took six months to pass the Council Goals, 10 hours and counting to evaluate the City Manager and over a year on the Parks Master Plan, which has still not passed.
This measure is opposed by Mayor Axelrod and Councilor Walters, both of whom have letters against it in the voters' pamphlet.
West Linn hired an experienced city manager to run the city under the council's directions, but instead of working as a team, the three councilors want to reduce the City Manager's status to that of an administrative assistant.
All legal decisions, which also include day-to-day legal questions on staff relations, union issues, contracts and planning applications, would be micromanaged by the City Council; a council that has also required a meeting facilitator costing $55,000 in the first six months of the year.
Meanwhile there will be little to no oversight of the City Attorney as the City Manager will not be able to monitor legal billing or performance.
If there are delays in planning applications for example, then the 120-day rule could allow developers to push ahead with their projects.
Earlier this year I reviewed council meeting inefficiencies (Citizen's View of April 19).
In 2016 before Councilors Cummings and Sakelik were elected, council meetings and work sessions totaled 86 hours.
Last year they clocked 150 hours, a 74% increase and 2019 looks like another record year. By the end of September, they had reached 126 hours with three more months to go.
For comparison, last year at this time the total was 118 hours.
One outcome of all this activity has been increased legal costs for the city. Legal fees for the first six months of this year total $140,501, an average of $23,417 per month. That's almost double the fees in the first seven months of 2018, which averaged $12,847 per month, according to Mayor Axelrod's report at the Aug. 5 council meeting.
These numbers continue on an upward trend. The Mayor was concerned with the increased hourly rate of the City Attorney from the current $265/hour to $305/hour and then $345/hour by 2021. He estimated the rates could result in an increase of 34% in legal fees next year and 50% in 2021.
However, he felt we could keep the hourly rate below $300/hour in keeping with cost savings shown by other cities including Canby, Milwaukie, Tigard, Sherwood that have an in-house city attorney.
At the very least we should seek competitive bids for legal services, he said. He was supported by Councilor Waters, but the three other councilors voted to continue service with the current City Attorney under the new rate structure.
West Linn needs the City Manager to provide oversight on legal services. Vote No on Measure 3-552.
Anthony Perry is a resident of West Linn.
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