February 24, 2013

Meyers Nave to Continue as San Leandro's City Attorney

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Meyers Nave, San Leandro's City Attorney, will continue its role after it received a vote of confidence from the San Leandro City Council at its meeting on February 19, 2013. This appears to come before completion of the City Attorney's performance evaluation, which is on the Council's closed session agenda for Monday, February 25.

The decision comes on the heels of a report analyzing options for legal services by Municipal Resource Group (MRG) that was part of the first performance evaluation of the City Attorney in nearly 10 years. The report compared legal costs in San Leandro to those in Pittsburg, Union City, Alameda, Hayward, Livermore, Pleasanton, and Richmond, which were characterized as “labor comparable cities.”

Costs in San Leandro for general legal services and cost of legal services per capita were generally in the middle or slightly below average compared to the other cities. However, the cost comparisons specifically excluded litigation costs, which have been significant in recent years with legal cases involving Faith Fellowship, lawsuits by female employees of the police department, and the former Lucky site on East 14th Street. Without comparing litigation costs, the MRG report could not and did not include any analysis of whether contract legal services result in higher litigation costs compared to in-house attorney services.

The presentation included a summary of historical legal costs, showing an increase from $877,755 in 2002-2003 to an estimated $1,353,600 in 2012-2013. The presentation listed the City Attorney costs for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 at $1,397,649 and $1,030,841, respectively. In August 2011, the City Attorney costs provided by the City and interim Finance Director Jim O'Leary for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were $1,645,167 and $1,746,388. These totals did not include any costs for legal settlements.

MRG's presentation went on to compare the advantages and disadvantages of contracting out for city attorney services, as it does now, and an in-house attorney. At the conclusion, members of the City Council were presented with three options:

  1. Continue with Meyers Nave, with a recommendation to negotiate the agreement.
  2. Change to an in-house attorney, as the City did prior to 1986.
  3. Issue a request for proposals for city attorney services

Councilmember Ursula Reed supported option 1, saying, “I am really concerned about changing anything dramatically because of the institutional knowledge that Meyers Nave has with the City.” But when asked about the recommendation to re-negotiate the agreement to a market-based fee for service, Reed responded, “I haven't decided that yet.”

Councilmember Diana Souza said, “I support option 1 – staying with Meyers Nave at this point.” Councilmember Benny Lee stated, “I support option 1 and also I like the idea of re-negotiating the contract.” Councilmembers Pauline Cutter, Jim Prola, and Michael Gregory also supported option 1, but with qualified support, saying that they were “leaning” towards or would be willing to go for option 1.

Only Mayor Stephen Cassidy expressed support for either changing to an in-house attorney or putting the contract out for bid. “I think there's a lot of value in having an in-house counsel. There's obviously an additional expense, but you know, as you look at the example of Hayward, it does not necessarily have to be more expensive... I think it's a mistake, if we are going to open up the contract and change it, not to put it out on the market and see what the marketplace value is for legal services and what the different options are. I think through competition – that's how you get value for your dollar and I think it's a mistake for us not to put this contract out for a bid...”

Absent from the public presentation and discussion was any discussion or disclosure about the role of Mike Oliver, a managing consultant at MRG. Meyers Nave served as San Leandro's City Attorney while Oliver was San Leandro's City Manager from 1992 until he was fired in 1996. Former Alameda County Fire Chief Bill McCammon also works for MRG in addition to his work as Executive Director at the East Bay Regional Communications System Authority.

City Manager Chris Zapata was tasked with refining the contract and come back to the City Council with recommendations at a future meeting.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at February 24, 2013 10:22 PM | TrackBack
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