Edmonds City Council votes to bring in new city attorney

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There’s a new city attorney in town.

The Edmonds City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to award the City Attorney contract to the Lighthouse Law Group. That means that the city will end its contract with Ogden Murphy Wallace – which has represented Edmonds since 1957 — and Attorney Scott Snyder, who has served as Edmonds’ City Attorney for the past 27 years. The Council directed Edmonds Mayor Mike Cooper to work out the details of the transition.

Snyder has come under fire recently by some citizens and councilmembers for his handling of certain issues, ranging from improperly written code, to a discrimination complaint involving Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis and Michael Plunkett and City Finance Director Lorenzo Hines, to a delay in providing ordinances to the city, which prompted the now-famous removal of  “no dogs allowed” signs along Sunset Avenue by then-City Council President Steve Bernheim. Also coming into question was the cost of Ogden Murphy Wallace’s services, which were priced significantly higher — a monthly retainer of $37,000 for general city work and additional billing for litigation — than the Lighthouse Group, which quoted an all-inclusive price of $32,000 a month with no additional charges.

Bernheim made the motion to approve the Lighthouse Group as City Attorney, seconded by Buckshnis. Plunkett noted that he was generally supportive of Lighthouse but was interesting in revisiting the application of another city attorney candidate, Weed Graafstra, so voted against Bernheim’s motion. Also joining in the majority yes vote for Lighthouse were Councilmembers Lora Petso and D.J. Wilson.

Wilson later called the vote “very difficult” due to his deep respect for Snyder. “The rational for change and the opportunity to do things a little differently, where we can save well over $200,000, is worth the risk” of switching to a new law firm, Wilson said.

Speaking against the motion and in favor of retaining Snyder was current Council President Strom Peterson, who said he had concerns about the Lighthouse Group’s “collective experience as a group” (the firm consists of several attorneys who currently have full-time jobs with other law firms and the City of Edmonds will be their first client). “I think it’s risky for the citizens of Edmonds to take that on,” Peterson said. “My concern is that we will be the test subject and I’m not comfortable with making that decision.”

Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who had a bad cold so participated from home via phone conference, also voted against the proposal.

In other action Tuesday night, the council:

– Received a presentation on the findings of the 2010-11 Citizens Levy Committee, which will be posted soon on the City’s website and on My Edmonds News.

– Authorized the Mayor to sign an addendum to a professional services agreement with Perteet, Inc. for construction of an emergency access road in the Shell Valley, a 92-home neighborhood located near Yost Park. After hearing public testimony on the matter, the council amended the addendum to ensure — at the residents’ request — that the roadway be no wider than 15 feet to minimize impact on wetlands, reduce the cost and limit its use to emergency and public works vehicles.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Just to clarify one thing in article if Scott Snyders firm would have been picked last night That base monthly retainer was reduced to $33.750 thats the offer that was on the table, I hope everybody realizes that.

  2. Good move by our Council.:

    We should now be able to expext:
    1. Reduced legal costs
    2. More negotiation with citizens and fewer city originated lawsuits.
    3. Less political activity by the city attorney.
    4. Full and transparent disclosure of all legal expenses.
    5. Equal accountability by the new city attorney to all elected officials, and not just to
    the Mayor’s whims.

  3. For less than 32K a month, the City could have hired an in house lawyer. $360K a year for routine legal services? WOW! And, I thought my billing rate was good.

  4. The city can still do the 100 hours and $15000.00 anything over that is by the hour, with lighthouse that might be cheaper yet but I think Ray hit the nail on the head for there price they will focus on the really important things but my only question to that is when somebody takes a run at the city whats the attorney suppost to do

  5. A question or two about this change. Does anyone know if there are contract termination costs that the current firm can charge the city? If so, how much for what? Can this decision be protested by the incumbent? Are there performance metrics for the new firm and who ensures they are met? Any other one-time transition costs that they city will incur? And I do recall a question from the Mayor to the incumbent about how they would ‘feel’ in being selected by only a 4-3 vote? We’ll see how the new attorney feels about coming in on a 4-3 vote. Thanks

  6. This move is way over due. Snyder and his group were an overagressive and condescending bunch who treeated citizens with disdain. They rested on their laurels and felt secure that nobody would dare challenge them. That attitude led to a level of unresponsinveness and a lot of the problems that have been festering for a very long time.

    Make no mistake about it though, the transition is going to cost a lot of money as Snyder’s group has had the benefit of historical perspective and has always known where the bodies are buried. My guess is that their “cooperation” in the transition will come at a steep hourly rate.

    There’ll be some pain for sure but long term, this just needed to get done. I hope the Lighthouse Group will be up to the challenge or this cost cutting effort is gonna backfire mightily.

    Kudos to the council for having the courage to finally pull the plug. Good luck all.

    BTW…. Priya Singha does make a valid point worthy of at least a logical response

  7. As a long time Edmonds resident (1980) and TV
    council meeting viewer, I will not miss seeing Mr. Snyder with chin planted firmly in hand watching over the council meetings. Body language speaks volumes and change is often a step forward.

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