By DJ Wilson
Edmonds City Council
Tuesday night, Council chose to move in a new direction with our City Attorney. This was a particularly tough vote for me, given my high esteem for our former City Attorney, Scott Snyder.
So, let me explain some of my reasoning.
– Qualifications: I found both firms to be highly qualified, particularly the lead City Attorney candidates. I met with both Mr. Snyder and Mr. Taraday individually, and believe them to be very high caliber legal minds. I give the edge to Mr. Snyder, who clearly has more experience in Edmonds, though Mr. Taraday served formally as the City Attorney in Woodinville and Maple Valley.
– Cost: Mr. Snyder proposed a standard contract of a retainer plus an hourly rate for time in excess of the retainer. After working with him, he was willing to bring the base retainer down from $450,000 to $405,000, which I appreciated. Litigation costs would be hourly in addition. Over the last few years, the total cost for these services annually appears in the $550,000-$600,000 range.
By comparison, Mr. Taraday’s firm proposed a fixed price of $384,000 all inclusive. There would be no litigation costs as extra. That is a significant cost differential, in my view.
Taken these two elements alone, I was left feeling like the choice was between the Cadillac, luxury option of Ogden Murphy Wallace, and the economic, efficient Honda option of the Lighthouse Group.
And, while many folks would like to be driving Cadillacs, doing so with the public’s tax dollars isn’t something I think is wise, particularly in these tough economic times. Moreover, the Council has no plans in place to even begin to shape a levy for public consideration, much less put one on the ballot. So, while some on the Council disagree, my view is that being frugal with our dollars – especially where we lose nothing in the way of competency and qualifications – is good public policy.
That extra $200,000 would pay for another cop, and run Yost Pool for a year. Those are real dollars that I wanted to save.
Let me fill you in on some other elements that were important in my consideration.
– The Reidy-Thuesen matter is a very big deal, in my mind. The long story short is that almost five years ago, before I was on Council, the Council approved as “final” a Critical Areas Ordinance that wasn’t ready yet. Staff and the City Attorney had not completed the requisite SEPA analysis for final adoption by Council. But Council passed it upon staff and City Attorney advice. When that happened, there was a string of events that enraged a neighborhood, costing private citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, ever since, the City of Edmonds was caught up in lawsuits and legal matters where we were squarely in the middle in a no-win legal drama. Better staff and legal work would never have allowed that matter to become as painful as it did or go as long as it did.
– Prosperous organizations need turnover from time to time. This allows senior leadership the opportunity to present new perspectives and bring new enthusiasm to the City. We’re seeing that now with some very strong hires in our new Public Works Director and our new Parks Director. We’ve been with Ogden Murphy Wallace since 1954, and with Mr. Snyder since 1983. It was time to bring in a new set of eyes and a new commitment of energy to the City of Edmonds
At the end of the day, what we all need to remember is this: There is no one in City government who is so important that they can’t be replaced – that goes for staff, electeds and me. We are all servants, and the world doesn’t end when an election is lost or an employee let go.
Some votes are tougher than others. But each of us, in our own way as citizens or servants, whether we agree or disagree, form our opinions based on the information we have at the time, and what we think is best for the community. I think all of us on Council, regardless of our vote, did that Tuesday, and – ultimately – our City will be in a stronger place moving forward.