Edmonds City Council to interview city attorney candidates, hold retreat

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Note correction that there will be no public comment taken following city attorney deliberations.

The Edmonds City Council will hold a special meeting starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday solely for the purpose of interviewing firms that have applied to serve as the City Attorney. The schedule includes:

5:30 p.m. Gary McLean

6:30 p.m. Scott Snyder, Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC (currently serving as city attorney)

7:30 p.m. Break

7:45 p.m. Jeffrey Taraday, Lighthouse Law Group PLLC

8:45 p.m.  Grant Weed, Weed Graafstra and Benson, Inc., PS

The City Council is scheduled for 30 minutes of deliberations after the interviews, followed by council comments and the mayor’s comments. it’s possible that they could announce their decision that evening, Council President Strom Peterson said.

On Friday and Saturday, Feb. 4 and 5, the Council will hold its annual retreat, which will run from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on Saturday, in the Brackett Meeting Room of City Hall, 121 – 5th Ave. N. During the retreat, the council will set priorities for the coming year and develop a 2011 action plan. They will also take public comment from 4:15-4:30 p.m. on Friday. A complete retreat agenda is here.

50 COMMENTS

  1. Very few citizens of Edmonds are aware of the change in City Council meeting time this week, so it would be appropriate for the City Council to give the public ample time to become familiar with the candidates, discuss issues relevant to the work histories of all candidates and communicate with our “electeds” about any points of which the City Council members might not be familiar.

    Some citizens would like to have their input considered prior to any consideration of who will serve as our next legal advisor.

    I would urge the City Council to take the time to get this right. The legal services for the City of Edmonds are expensive and we want the most competent, ethical, knowledgeable person to be hired for this position. Please join me in a strong request that the City Council NOT act in haste on this decision. It will be a decision that will affect many lives in our community.

  2. Agreed. A good legal Counsel, and I believe we have such @ this time, will be part of the risk management team for elected officials. Guiding them away from ideas and pet projects that spell trouble, and helping them understand the depth and breadth of their responsibilities. We don’t want ‘cheap’ legal help and we certainly don’t have the time for inexperienced lawyers/firms to figure out what they should say to our elected ones. I understand we have such candidiates on the list (cheap and inexperienced), and these folks we do not need. If the issue is the expense of keeping the current firm, renegotiate the contract and let’s move on.

  3. Will someone please tell me why we hire elected officials?
    If we are just going to review every post it note regarding any City movement, and then debate it until its the equivelent of a slushy, why hire Council? They are supposed to be our voice. Stop voting on every action. We’ll never get anything done at this rate.

  4. Ron B. Strom has been Council President for about 3 weeks now. Give em a break. Give him time to work for goodness sake. We have it so good here in America. Stop complaining about every little thing!

  5. I agree with hobbs and disagree with Ron B they announced 5pm for the interviews at the last meeting and the public is welcome, if there is somebody you like call the council and tell them. I think Storm is doing a good job, You know what everybody on that council puts in a whole bunch of time going to meetings reviewing material and get paid very little for what they do. I don’t think people realize how much work they do, it doesn’t matter if you agree with them or not you should appricate all the work they do

  6. I’ll believe for a moment that I do understand the big job they have and great effort it takes; it’s fairly clear to anyone diggning a bit. And for this reason alone they need good counsel and not low-cost, inexperienced help. This city has a lot in front of it, and even a small land-use issue can send the Counsel to the books for some time ($$). Renegotiate the current contract and keep our current legal firm!

  7. Readers: To Jim Underhill who says, “We don’t want ‘cheap’ legal help … we … don’t have the time for inexperienced lawyers/firms …. I understand we have such candidiates on the list (cheap and inexperienced), and these folks we do not need. … ”

    Bernheim thoughts: Gary McLean has been city attorney and CITY MANAGER in Puyallup for seven years (city attorney Des Moines, labor lawyer for City of Seattle and big firm government relations lawyer four years before that) and proposes that he would have office hours in city hall and that the city of edmonds would be his ONLY municipal client;

    Graafstra’s firm represents more cities in snohomish county than any other firm.

    Taraday, while working for Ogden, Murphy, Wallace, was city attorney or assistant city attorney for maple valley, woodinville, issaquah, edgewood and poulsbo and was a private firm land use lawyer for four years after that.

    however, you are correct in that these three generally offer to do the job “cheaper” (i.e., for less money) than the incumbent who has held the job for 27 years.

    To Priya who says, “buy local,” no Edmonds firms applied.

    To Hobbs, the issue is whether voters have a chance to find out anything about the applicants before the council decides.

    Meanwhile, I hope everyone who is interested takes the time if they wish to review the applications and to provide us with the benefit of your views, as always!

    thank you. sb.

  8. @Hobbs. You took the words out of my mouth or keyboard in this instance. Why do we elect people to do a job and then tell them they can’t do it. Strom is doing a good job. To allow enough time for all the candidates they had to start earlier.

    I also think Scott has done a great job for us and I’m impressed with his knowledge. What needs to be done is cut cost by not calling legal council for every little issue like a few Council members do.

  9. Mike,

    Yes, council has a huge job, and are poorly paid for their efforts. Many citizens, in addition to yourself, understand and appreciate how much work they do.

    This conversation, however, is about citizen involvement in providing input about the selection of our city attorney. The process in place does not provide for informing citizens about the candidates, and does not allow for input to be given by citizens at the time of the interviews. If the selection of the city attorney occurs at tomorrow’s meeting, that means that citizens have been left out of the process.

    Jim,

    You seem to be basing your recommendation to continue with the current law firm on, reviewing your posts, nothing but your own opinion.

    It would be irresponsible of council not to consider ALL candidates for this position very carefully, and with attention to actively involving as many interested citizens in the process as possible, so that they will make the best decision for the future of our city. I certainly hope that none of them have made up their minds already, as you have.

  10. Steve,

    Thanks for the information. Where can citizens find the candidates’ applications? I haven’t been able to find them on the city website. if they are there, could you provide a link?

  11. Joan your probably right, my main thing was about someone calling out storm, As far as attorneys I try to stay away from the legal arena , I figure if you can get an answer out of a lawyer then your doing ok, But whoever it is it isn’t going to change anything if the council and city keep fighting about every little thing, and have to use the attorneys all the time

  12. I think we should stay with the firm that has represented us for many years. There is a great deal of city history that they are aware of that another firm would have to spend time researching. In that case the money still adds up in additional research hours. At this time of monetary upset is it a good idea to bring in a new player because they claim to charge less? The existing firm has handled the cities afairs in a timely manner, devoting the needed hours to solve our problems. I guess I have to question a lawyer that would have only one municipal client, where is the rest of his income going to come from?

  13. Brooke,

    Fees to Ogden Murphy Wallace were over a half million in 2009. I’m certain of this because I made a public records request for the information. Significantly less than half a million would look pretty good to most attorneys, and/or to the firms they represent. Especially in the current economy.

    I’m not sure what “city history” that you think a new attorney would have to learn that would take so much time, or that would be of use in serving in that position. Could you be more specific?

    Council voted 6 to 1 (Strom voted no) to put out an RFQ for city attorney on August 24, 2010. They obviously had good reason to believe that a change of representation should be considered. I find it interesting that some citizens involved in this email conversation are quick to support OMW without considering the other excellent candidates. Aren’t any of you the least bit interested in what they might have to offer our city?

  14. Joan if you read my statement correctly I said the council and [the city] so my question who is calling in the attorneys I remember last year there was a big right away fight over somebodys property I not exactly sure of the details but it seems like it completly took over the meetings and the city attorney was right in the middle of it. I called the council pres and complained . It sure would be nice to see where the city attorney is spending all his time, like I said im no expert what does RFQ mean? thank you

  15. Mike,

    Request for qualifications. Basically, a job announcement for the position, in this case of city attorney. RFP, request for proposal, is also used, but I think that is when they are requesting a bid on road work and such.

  16. Joan thanks I think a request to see where your spending all your time would be better,If the city is spending 500 a grand a year in lawyers I think it needs to be looked at real closely where that money is going. I sure hope that question is asked tonight, and to Ron I am involved I call the council on a regular basic and put in request even if you don’t like the format there are still ways to be involved

  17. Just got some of my questions answered. The city of Edmonds gets sued about once a month everytime that happens the city lawyer has to be involved. So if the public is complaining about big fees the public is to blame. This”Edmonds” is not the nice friendly community people would like it to be.

  18. Since the Council has decided to interview Law Firms, including our current city Attorney, it will be interesting to watch those interviews and see what questions the Council poses to the attorneys. Hopefully we will hear about any Conflicts of Interest the Firms may have, experience with litigation (courtroom experience), expected costs to “come up to speed” on the Edmonds codes, as well as how Council will interact with the attorney.
    It will be a very instructive session of the Council since the legal representation of the City is crucial to almost all aspects of how the City functions. The Council’s questions will reflect their understanding of the role of the City Attorney in government.
    Let’s see how they do.

  19. Joe don’t recall that one, I guess they must of felt liable for the totem pole, I put in a request for the council to ask some cost questions in these interviews, I would’nt be presuming anything if all those cost were presented to the public.

  20. I am of the opinion that a portion of the City’s legal expense relates to assorted problems with the City’s Code. This is true even as it relates to the City Attorney Selection process. Please refer to the January 4, 2011 City Council Meeting minutes, item 15. DISCUSSION OF PROCEDURE FOR REVIEWING CITY ATTORNEY APPLICANTS.

    In those City Council Meeting minutes, “Councilmember Bernheim referred to the language in the Code that states the City Council shall utilize the consultant selection process established by Chapter 2.8. That chapter has been repealed.”

    Hence, the Code as it relates to the PROCEDURE FOR REVIEWING CITY ATTORNEY APPLICANTS is flawed as it references a repealed chapter. Mayor Cooper expressed concern related to this as documented in the January 4, 2011 City Council Meeting minutes. Mayor Cooper explained his intent was to avoid any problems with not following the process as described in the Code.

    The City’s website provides evidence of other problems with the City’s Code. For example, During a June 8, 2005 City Planning Board Meeting, City employee Rob Chave, represented to the Planning Board that the “lot line adjustment” process was eliminated from the City regulations because the criteria were so poorly written that nothing could be denied.
    I believe that issues related to the City’s code need to be addressed, the sooner the better.

  21. Interested citizens may also want to review the Edmonds City Council Approved Minutes dated February 28, 2006 which include minutes related to the following detailed discussion:

    9. WORK SESSION ON PROCESS AND PROCEDURE FOR THE REWRITE OF THE EDMONDS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CODE (ECDC)

    In addition, the City of Edmonds 2006 Final Budget references “A complete rewrite of ECDC over a two-year period is proposed for 2006.”

    The City of Edmonds 2007-2008 Final Budget references “A complete rewrite of ECDC over a two-year period is proposed for completion in 2007.”

    I’ve been told that a significant amount of money was allocated or possibly reserved for this purpose. Do any other citizen’s possess knowledge of the amount involved? I do not know if this complete rewrite of ECDC was completed in 2007, but it may not have been.

    The City’s website contains a schedule of 2010 LEGAL FEES BILLED – CITY ATTORNEY OGDEN MURPHY WALLACE As of 09/30/2010. Near the bottom of the schedule, a line item reads as follows:

    “Less ECDC Rewrite & Retainer Legislative”

    I do not know whether or not this relates to the complete rewrite of ECDC over a two-year period proposed for completion in 2007 that is discussed in the City of Edmonds 2007-2008 Final Budget.

    If anybody has more information or has time to research the status of the complete rewrite of ECDC, the information would be greatly appreciated.

  22. My Edmonds News last night submitted a public records request for all the city attorrney applications and we hope to have those posted as PDFs later today (prior to the 5 p.m. meeting).

  23. Joan I read your posts. Im impressed you have a good backround and knowledge on what is going on. Some of this stuff sounds a little on the sketchy side at the least. I guess we don’t live in a nice little honest world where rules are rules, too bad.

  24. Now this is change I can believe in.

    The huge number of responses tells me that the Council and many citizens believe that this move is long overdue. Cheers for our City Council!!

  25. Allow me to weigh in on Council performance as I see some static aimed at them.

    The 2010 Council, led by Steve Bernheim was one of the best since the 70s or 80s, even with all of its many changes.

    As for 2011, I see Strom doing a pretty fair job. He has my vote for the “most improved” since becoming a Council member and he probably has about the least amount of life experiences to fall back on and I see a fast improving member in him. The Council now has only one distractive member.

    So overall, our City Council is on top as far as I am concerned.

  26. Hello there Hobbs.

    From GoEnglish.com:

    “You are the pot calling the kettle black when you point to another person and accuse that person of doing something that you are guilty of doing yourself.”

    So what have I accused you of that I am guilty of doing myself? Please educate me as I am a little slow today!

    If I have done so, please accept my apology. My intent was simply to point out my opinion that the City’s Code has many problems.

    Hope you are having a great day.

  27. Mike (comment 33),

    Thanks for taking the time to read my posts (comment 30), and thanks for the compliment.

    It would be great to live “in a nice little honest world where rules are rules”, but that’s not the case. When rules are broken in the ways that I and others have observed, the public trust is seriously damaged, and it is the elected officials’ responsibility to work toward its repair.

  28. @Diane T. I have asked for fees paid to date we have paid the Sept Quarterly reflected over $500K and there was an $145K FYE budget ammendment and then the last three months of a $33K monthly retainer would put the approximate legal cost of around $750K and yes this is all ballpark.

    Specific questions I asked regarding cases and number of successes and failures did not make it. I would like to send out a specific list for these four groups to answer so we all can get some ideas of success and or experience.

  29. Ken,
    I’m sorry. My bad. Wrong use of the quote. You win. It’s just sad. The legal fees being paid every where because the City has to “defend” themselves. Thats US! Yes Ken, the City code needs help. You showed them. I wonder what the legal fees are for your “case” with the City and your neighbor. $75,000.00?
    Instead of all residents being a team and fixing our problems together some choose to make a point with litigeous actions. That is their right, I just don’t agree with it.
    I don’t think there is missing money either.

  30. @DianeB, thanks for the information. Having watched the meeting (yes,all of it), there were indeed some very good questions asked.
    The reasons for the desire to change attorneys hasn’t been clearly articulated near as I can tell. Is it just the expense? Has the current City Attorney been less than good or just more expensive? I am just asking because I really don’t know, and wonder to what Ms. Monillas had reference to in her opening remarks.
    One thing that did strike me is that the one gentleman who was a sole practitioner from Puyallup would be a bad fit for Edmonds. Should anything happen to him, then Edmonds would be in dire straights.
    With attorneys, it isn’t always about the hourly rates and flat fees. It isn’t easy to determine what the costs will ultimately be, even with the one firm that was offering a flat rate. I would hope that Edmonds is represented by a firm, so that we aren’t dependent on just one person for the City’s legal representative.
    @Hobbs. When someone sues the City, they are taking on (unless representing themselves) legal fees which can be staggering as well. Most don’t sue unless they have exhausted all other and cheaper avenues of resolution. (There are exceptions, of course). I don’t know if the City uses mediation or arbitration but it would interesting to have it explored. Mediation and arbitration can dramatically reduce legal fees for both sides, and can resolve many issues.

  31. Diane T,

    Here is a link to a conversation that you, others, and I were engaged in response to the article “Edmonds mayor tells council members he won’t sign their budget.”

    http://myedmondsnews.com/2010/12/edmonds-mayor-tells-council-he-wont-sign-budget/#comments

    You made a comment at the end of the year that I said I would respond to after the New Year. I did, but I do not think you read my reply, given that you are so conscientious about replying to posts addressed to you. In my next post, I will paste my response, as it is related to your question to Diane B.

  32. Diane,

    Here is the post I referenced:

    Read more: http://myedmondsnews.com/2010/12/edmonds-mayor-tells-council-he-wont-sign-budget/#ixzz1D2fx6Cjn
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

    Diane T (comment 19),

    I have had an opportunity to think about your comment and believe that you and I are functioning on two very different basic assumptions about the legal fees incurred by the city. You assume that the past legal fees have all been warranted, and, as Mayor Cooper, question why council would reduce the amount of funds allocated for city attorney expenses.

    I, on the other hand, believe that not all of the legal fees incurred have been warranted. I reference my personal experience with the wetland near my home and the enormous waste of taxpayer dollars as a result of the delay publishing of the critical areas ordinance (CAO), which resulted in a property owner vesting development rights under the old CAO. Please see my presentation to City Council on 12-21-10, and Ken Reidy’s comment which references case law which confirms that the delay publishing did not delay the effective date of the law:
    http://edmondsforum.com/category/wetlands/

    Our city attorney should have known that the delay publishing did not delay the effective date of the law. It pains me to know that the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in fees to OMW, hearing examiner fees, superior court costs, staff time, citizen time and money, settlement money awarded to the property owner, all could have been prevented had the planning department been informed by our city attorney that the new CAO was in effect at the time of the property owner’s application, and, therefore, his development application could not be vested under the old CAO.
    This has been a massive waste of taxpayer dollars that has gone on for over five years, continues to this day, and could have been prevented by our city attorney. Do you see now why I have concerns about the cost of legal services provided to the city by OMW?

  33. Joan:
    You have followed the Reddy issue more attentively than I have. Have the allegations that you mention in your last two paragraphs ever been responded to by OMW or the city administration? I believe that city council cannot make a city attorney selection until they’ve been able to come to an educated conclusion as to whether or not OMW screwed up.

  34. Joan Im not real familar with the case, but was wondering if that property was ever for sale recently before any of this ever happened.

  35. Ron W,

    At the 2-23-10 council meeting, I requested that Scott Snyder be removed from the Theusen-Reidy case and that an investigation be opened into the handling of the Theusen short plat application. At the 12-21-10 council meeting, I asked that council investigate the delay publishing of the Critical Areas Ordinance and that those responsible be held accountable. My presentations to council on those days can be found on EdmondsForum.com under the category of Wetlands.

    To my knowledge, neither has occurred.

    Mike,

    The current property owner has owned the property throughout this entire legal mess.

    Diane T,

    Comment #44 was meant for you. I accidentally left off the T.

  36. If the mayor or any council member is reading this I wish that they would cause the issue described by Ms. Bloom to be resolved prior to the selection of a city attorney.

  37. Ron Wambolt, my buddy Calvin wants know why you are always wanting people fired, have their wages reduced, benefits taken away, Council members apologizing/and or removed? Why are these your only ideas of how to make issues better? Why can’t we all work together? Same goes for the Reedy issue. Working towards a common repair would have been so much better. And it’s still not over with Reedy. I want council who will move us along, not constantly demand punishment. How much will your post above cost us Ron?

  38. It also strikes me odd that Joan and Ron and others want to fire staff, reduse staff levels, yet complain because work isn’t done fast enough. Crazy.

  39. Diane T,

    Comment #42, regarding applicant Gary McLean. Please see the following PDF of his application:

    http://myedmondsnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Gary-McLean.pdf

    Page 4 addresses back-up attorney.

    Your comment above, “One thing that did strike me is that the one gentleman who was a sole practitioner from Puyallup would be a bad fit for Edmonds. Should anything happen to him, then Edmonds would be in dire straights.”, makes the inaccurate assumption that back-up is unavailable.

  40. Hi Hobbs,

    You and I are not the only two citizens who agree that the City Code needs help. The October 17, 2006 City Council meeting minutes document the following:

    “Mayor Haakenson commented the Hearing Examiner’s decisions were only as good as the code and expressed his appreciation to Mr. McConnell for his perseverance during the past 12 years, acknowledging at times portions of the code were in conflict.”

    As acknowledged by former Mayor Haakenson, the problems with the Code have been around for many, many years. The former Mayor actually stated that the Hearing Examiner’s decisions were only as good as the Code! Former Mayor Haakenson thanked Mr. McConnell for persevering for 12 years with a Code that was in conflict at times. Stop and think about the huge significance of his comments! I do not believe citizens should be subject to actions against their private property by the City or its Hearing Examiner while the City is so very aware of the problems with its Code. Where is the accountability and why have the problems been allowed to continue?

    Hobbs, you appear to be implying I initiated litigious action against the City. Please search the City Council meeting minutes and you will see that I never filed a claim against the City.

    To the contrary, the City changed its code enforcement efforts against my property after representing verbally and in writing that it would stay its code enforcement efforts pending a final determination regarding my adverse possession claim and final approval of the three-lot short subdivision. Sadly, the City went back on its representation after receiving an offer from the developer’s attorney, an offer never shared with me that I discovered via the public records request process much later. I do not know if the City Attorney ever conveyed the offer to the City Council.

    I did everything in my power to work with the City to resolve my issues without taking the litigious route. I guess I was naive. I have kept every email I ever sent. I think you would be stunned and greatly concerned if you objectively reviewed the information and public records that I have in my possession.

    I may ask My Edmonds News if I can post some background information related to my situation so you and others can understand some of the details. I’ll give this some thought.

  41. Hobbs, one more question. Please explain what you are referring to with your comment that “I don’t think there is missing money either.” I’m not sure I know of what missing money you are referring to.

    Finally, you seem to be criticizing Joan and Ron and others while at the same time requesting citizens work together to fix our problems. From my perspective, the incredible interest and hard work of citizens like Joan, Ron and others is to be highly commended. We might not all agree with each other’s political viewpoints all of the time, but I am extremely appreciative of these citizens hard work and genuine interest in making our City better for all.

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