Council gives Lighthouse Law Group another three years to serve as Edmonds’ city attorney

City Attorney Jeff Taraday of Lighthouse Law Group

The Edmonds City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to approve a new three-year contract with Lighthouse Law Group, which has been serving as the city’s attorney since 2011.

City Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Councilmember Mike Nelson — who will take over as mayor Jan. 1 — voted against the proposal. Both expressed concerns about the length of the contract given that fellow Councilmembers Tom Mesaros and Dave Teitzel were still researching how neighboring cities handle their attorney hiring practices, including the use of in-house attorneys. A one-year contract would give the city time to consider its options for future city attorney work, Fraley-Monillas and Nelson agreed.

“Maybe we’re not doing our due diligence by approving a three-year contract,” Fraley-Monillas said.

“We should complete the (review) process that we have started,” added Nelson.

But ensuring continuity, in light of a new mayor and new councilmembers in 2020, was a top concern for Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who voted for the contract. “We’re going to have a brand-new mayor, four new councilmembers. I am very concerned about the stability that we need to have for our citizens and the history that the legal department has… (with) all of the players that make this wonderful city,” Buckshnis said.

“Who are we to say what the next council’s wanting to see?” countered Nelson. “Do they want to see stability or do they want to see progress and reform? I don’t think we should presume the direction or dictate how they’re going to do this but I think — especially when a majority of us are not going to be here — I think we should leave it up to them to decide the long-term direction of our city attorney.”

Speaking further to her support of the Lighthouse contract, Buckshnis replied: “We just seem to think it’s all about moving forward and trying something because we’re having a whole new attitude end a new council. But I also think that sometimes when you move into a new house you don’t remodel everything.”

Under the contract, Lighthouse will continue to work for a flat rate regardless of workload, including any additional litigation —  an arrangement it doesn’t offer to any of its other clients. That rate will be $49,833 per month in 2020, $51,878 monthly in 2021 and $53,953 per month in 2022. However, the contract does contain a provision in which Lighthouse would have the option to retroactively bill the city — back to January 2020 — for work done at its hourly attorney rate if the following “option triggering events” occur in 2020: 1) the city terminates its agreement with Lighthouse, 2) the city approves an in-house attorney position or 3) the city doesn’t renew its agreement with Lighthouse for 2021.

The hourly rates for Lighthouse attorneys — eight of them are available to work on the city’s legal issues but Jeff Taraday is the primary city attorney serving Edmonds — range from $295 to $221.

Under the approved contract, Lighthouse can bill retroactively for no more than eight months’ work if the city breaks its contract in 2020, for four months’ work if the city breaks the contract in the first four months of 2021, and for two months’ work if the contract is broken in the first two months of 2022.

In other action Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to approve a 28-year agreement with the City of Mountlake Terrace, Olympic View Water and Sewer District, and Ronald Sewer District for wastewater treatment and disposal services. The agreement follows a 30-year agreement — and a two-year extension — that started in 1988 when the agencies worked together to finance and build an upgraded wastewater treatment plant in Edmonds to provide secondary sewage treatment, as required by law.

Questions were again raised — based on earlier citizens’ concerns — about the whether Mountlake Terrace’s projected population growth would overtax the Edmonds plant — something that Edmonds residents would pay for in the long run. Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams assured the council — as he did at last week’s meeting — that if the City of Moutlake Terrace exceeds the limits of contracted sewage flows, it would have to figure out how to manage those flows, including the possibility of sending them elsewhere.

And councilmembers unanimously voted to amend existing language in the city’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect the current work of the Citizens’ Housing Commission. The amendment states that the commission will provide housing policy options by the end of 2020 for city council consideration. 

The council also introduced a variety of amendments to Mayor Dave Earling’s proposed 2020 city budget, but discussion was limited. Those amendments will be further discussed and voted on at the Dec. 3 council meeting.

In other action, the council:

– Authorized the mayor to sign a water quality stormwater capacity grant from the State Department of Ecology.

– Discussed but did not approve the proposed Capital Facilities Plan and 2020-2025 Capital Improvement Program.

– Heard Mayor Earling read a proclamation declaring Saturday, Nov. 30 as Small Business Saturday, and urging residents to support small businesses not only on that day but throughout the year.

— By Teresa Wippel

4 Replies to “Council gives Lighthouse Law Group another three years to serve as Edmonds’ city attorney”

  1. Renewing the LH contract is good for Edmonds. They have been instrumental in saving the taxpayers a lot of money. The purchase of Civic Field below market price is a good example. The negotiation of the Fire contract is an excellent example of helping Edmonds provide the best possible services at the lowest possible cost. That helped us save more then $1m annually.

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  2. Good to hear they have helped Edmonds especially with the high fees paid by the taxpayers. I think it would have been fair to have negotiated this contract after the first of the year when the new mayor and new council members are in place. This is a big commitment to make by the outgoing staff and assimilated by the new leadership. I noticed the incoming mayor (as we know he is still a council member until January 1) and a current council member voted against extending the contract. It bothered me as it did not seem fair, when I read about the contract extension, so I am giving my two cents.

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    1. I believe that city council made the right decision when they decided to handle the city attorney issue this year. Waiting until next year and having four new council members, with little or no experience working with a city attorney, would not have been wise. Whether or not council made the right choice in renewing Lighthouse for three years is of course debatable.

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