The City Council has decided to put a staff city attorney position in the city budget for the coming year, but will delay a decision on actually hiring one “for a few months” to consider the cost effectiveness.
Mayor Gere told the Council at its Monday night meeting that she sees a need to have an attorney on city staff. She acknowledged what she called “a quantum leap and a stretch financially,” but sees a need in a changing city.
The city currently contracts with Brad Furlong, who acts as a city attorney for several government entities in Skagit County.
The city’s 2015 budget includes $156,000 in salary and benefits for a staff city attorney. The contract city attorney was paid $69,000 last year and has billed just under $60,000 so far this year.
Not all Council members agree, so Mayor Gere proposed leaving the staff city attorney position in the new budget and discuss it over the next few months.
Council member Matt Miller had earlier questioned the move, but he missed Monday night’s meeting.
The Council also approved converting the city Public Defender from a contract position to a staff position. A full-time public defender and staff legal assistant are budgeted for $209,000 for the coming year.
Mayor Gere told the Council that,“We decided it was in the best interests of the city to get legal assistance for the indigent clients” for risk management reasons.
Other cities have been taking the same approach in light of court decisions designed to assure that indigent defendants get the representation they should.
In one lawsuit charging the city of Mount Vernon with ineffective public defender representation of indigent clients, a judge awarded $2.2-million in attorneys’ fees. Under court rulings, public defenders now are limited in the number of clients they can represent.
During the Council discussion of the $48.9-million city budget, Council members weighed in on the city’s street improvement program, whether city hall needs a retrofit or needs to be torn down and replaced.
The Council is set to approve the budget next Monday.