The Edmonds City Council decided last week to reduce the number of candidates applying to be Edmonds’ City Attorney from four finalists to two. There was extended discussion and the Council even had to take a break to hash out some of the issues. Finally they came back and advanced the city’s current attorney, Ogden Murphy Wallace, and newcomer Lighthouse Law Group. A copy of their presentations to the City are here.
Ogden Murphy Wallace has been in business for over 100 years and their lead attorney for the city, Scott Snyder, has been Edmonds’ City Attorney for 27 years. Lighthouse Law Group was formed as a business four months ago, although most of the members have at least a decade of experience and Edmonds would be their first major client.
Two other firms were not moved forward although there was no real discussion as to why. They were Gary McLean and Weed Graafstra and Benson.
What follows is a brief analysis of the relative merits of the two remaining firms. I won’t cover the two that were eliminated unless the council decides Tuesday night to bring them back into the discussion.
Ogden Murphy Wallace.
Scott Snyder has been the City’s attorney for the past 27 years and has been with the firm for more years prior to that. Ogden Murphy Wallace serves as City Attorney for more cities than any other firm in the state. Snyder serves as the lead and has a backup who assists him when needed. Ogden Murphy Wallace lists six additional members who specialize in various fields that help on an as-needed basis for City issues. They also have a large number of other employees in various capacities that assist from time to time.
Their work for other cities can help them do things more efficiently; for example, they may have written an ordinance for the City of Issaquah that can serve as a template for an Edmonds ordinance on a similar subject.
Also, Snyder’s long-term connection with the City makes him almost a “library of Edmonds past,” when issues come up.
The firm is very professional and for the most part has done a good job for the City. It does have its detractors, however. Several citizens cite examples where either work wasn’t completed in a timely manner or code wasn’t written properly and resulted in hardships on particular citizens.
There is also a cost for all of the expertise and professional background. Ogden Murphy Wallace quoted the highest pricing of any of the candidates: a monthly retainer of $37,000 for general city work and then additional billing for litigation. Total billings for 2010 were over $500,000.
Lighthouse Law Group
Imagine Boston Legal, but without the old guard of Denny Crane. Lighthouse is composed a hip young group of lawyers who have come together to provide legal services to municipalities from a new perspective. Rather than providing a single lead attorney, Lighthouse has assembled a group of seven members who would work as a team for the City. So rather than filter all the information through a single lead attorney, Edmonds can go directly to a specialist at Lighthouse, making for more efficient communication.
The team consists of lead Jeffrey Taraday, who would be the main contact at City Council meetings and six other lawyers, all somewhat equal with differing specialties. For example if you had a growth management issue you would contact Susan Drummond directly. For a human resources issue, your contact would be Rosa Fruehling-Watson. Lighthouse maintains that this arrangement allows for substantial cost reduction for the city as the efficiencies of the communications process require less time duplicated.
While all the teams members have nearly a decade of experience as lawyers, the firm was only assembled in October of 2010. Taraday, in fact, worked for Ogden Murphy Wallace back in the 1990s. However, the firm has no other municipal clients, at least where they serve as City Attorney. Several of them have helped in this function at previous employers but as Lighthouse Law Group, Edmonds would be their first client.
One issue brought up during the interview process was what would the firm look like six months or a year from now. Several members of the firm still have full time jobs with other firms. How will they then support the City of Edmonds when time conflicts arise?
There is an advantage to the city being Lighthouse Group’s first client, as it is certain they will give it their best effort so they can build their reputation.
The final factor Lighthouse has to its advantage is cost. They quoted an all-inclusive price of $32,000 a month. When queried, they confirmed that this was a complete package price, with no additional charges for anything. The City would know precisely its legal budget obligation for the year. This is about 25 percent less than the city has spent over each of the past two years.
So who do you pick?
Please think about the issues, read the proposal, review the interviews that were on the city’s TV channel and let your councilmembers know what you think. We’ve also created a poll where you can share your views.
I am going to depart from my normal practice a bit here and give you Citizen Harry’s thoughts.
It was a good idea to review the City Attorney position and see what else is out there. I value the benefits of the longevity of having Ogden Murphy Wallace serve as our attorney. However, I also believe that it make sense to make a change every once in a while, if for no other reason than to gain a fresh perspective on the City’s legal matters. Further, there does seem to be a substantial cost savings to be obtained by making a change.
All that being said, I do not think that the City can afford to take a chance on a startup with no other clients and no record of longevity as a firm. While the group may seem perfectly complimentary to each other today, who knows what issues might come in three months, six months or even two years down the road. I worry that not all members of the firm are not giving up their other full-time employment to serve as a member of the team. This is particularly worrisome in the area of human resources, where many questions come up regularly. I think this is a great group of people, but I think it would be irresponsible for Edmonds to put its legal future in the hands of a firm that is less than six months old.
Edmonds resident “Citizen Harry” Gatjens provides regular reports to My Edmonds Newson the workings of the Edmonds city government, including the 2010 Citizens Levy Committee and the Citizens Technology Advisory Committee. Gatjens, an accountant, also offers insight into the workings of the city budget.