City Attorney candidate Lighthouse Law Group meets Edmonds citizens

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By Harry Gatjens

The first of two Coffees with Harry, focusing on candidates for Edmonds City Attorney, was held Friday afternoon at Chanterelle Restaurant. As always, Chanterelle gave us a nice area to sit, have coffee and visit with several members of The Lighthouse Law Group, one of two remaining candidates for the City Attorney job. Representing Lighthouse were Jeff Taraday, Susan Drummond and Chuck Wolfe.

About a dozen people total came to the event and had a great opportunity to ask questions of the group. The first question focused on how the Lighthouse Group could do the work for an all-inclusive bid that was substantially less than that of the bid by the current City Attorney, Ogden Murphy Wallace. Taraday explained that efficiencies would be gained by the firm’s unique approach of having a seven-member team work on the city’s legal issues. Rather than funneling all issues through a central figure, this setup allows the city to go straight to the team’s expert in the field, getting a quicker and more accurate answer rather than sifting the question through several layers of their organization. He also pointed out that the hourly rates for Lighthouse were approximately 25 percent less than Ogden Murphy Wallace.

When asked how they determined their bid, the reply was that it was based on a combination of experience with similar-sized cities and a bit of gut feel. Lighthouse also said that they had looked at the City’s budget.

Next came the issue of whether it was irresponsible for the City to hire an attorney firm that has only been in existence for four months. The answer was that all of the attorneys on the team had at least 10 years’ experience. Since they have good relationships with each other and had chosen to work together, they felt that the odds of them surviving together as a group was as good as any other firm. They also noted that they liked municipal work, as it gave them a feeling of doing something good for the community.

Asked next about the fact that several members of the Lighthouse team were not full-time members of the firm — and in fact several had full-time positions with other firms — Taraday answered that not all of the members would be needed all the time. They could bring on more qualified team members with greater specialization by including those with other affiliations, he said. For example, both Drummond and Wolfe have their own firms and practice in specialized areas. By keeping their other practices, they are able to keep on top of the relevant issues and bring expertise to the City of Edmonds.

A question was asked about the City Attorney’s obligation to take a settlement offer to the City Council and whether the Attorney could reject the offer on his or her own. This stems from an issue several years back when a citizen felt this did not happen. The Lighthouse Group said that any reasonable offer would be presented to the City Council; the group didn’t comment on the merits of this particular case but instead said they were commenting on the issue hypothetically.

The group was also asked whether renegotiation of their proposal –as well as other firms’ proposals — was a proper thing to do. For example, would they be willing to renegotiate for a shorter term, or would it be OK for their competitor to renegotiate on pricing? While they felt that such renegotiation was somewhat unfair, they also admitted that such things do happen and that they aren’t illegal or immoral.

Then the group was thrown a softball question to hit and to give them credit, they didn’t lunge at it. Asked how long was too long for a City not to change a City Attorney, they said that there wasn’t a real number of years. It all revolves around having a level of comfort with the attorney and the relationship. They did say the City of Edmonds’ 27-year arrangement with Ogden Murphy Wallace was beyond the norm. More typical was every 10-15 years, they said.

All in all, it was a good meeting. It lasted 90 minutes and no questions were ducked, nor were any of the citizens disrespectful to anyone else in the group. It was what we strive for, a good interchange of ideas.

Come join us Monday at 3 p.m. for more coffee, this time with current City Attorney Scott Snyder. Same rules as all Citizen Harry Coffee meetings: free drip coffee from Chanterelle at 316 Main St. You can ask any question you want, but you need to be respectful of others at the meeting.  (We did have the police chief come to our meeting on Friday just to keep us all in line).

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