Council hears city attorney report, finalizes schedule for applicant interviews

Lighthouse Law Group attorneys present to the city council Tuesday night (L-R): Jeff Taraday, Patricia Taraday and Angela Tinker.

The Lighthouse Law Group, which contracts with the City of Edmonds to provide city attorney services, presented its annual report to the Edmonds City Council Tuesday, touching on topics ranging from current and past litigation to why the law firm bills the city at a flat rate.

City Attorney Jeff Taraday is the name and face most familar to those watching city council meetings, as he attends nearly all council meetings and provides legal advice when needed. But the firm has a total of six attorneys focused on City of Edmonds business, from employment matters to public works bidding and other procurement issues, to right-of-way easements, to public records requests to small cell wireless permitting.

Beth Ford is the firm’s primary litigator, and Taraday explained she has been working on the City of Edmonds vs. Ebb Tide case. In this matter, the city is trying to secure the rights to construct a walkway in front of the Ebb Tide condominiums to fill “the missing link” in a public walkway being constructed.

During the course of the Ebb Tide case, the city has prevailed in three separate partial summary judgment motions so far, Taraday noted: In the first, the city’s easement was ruled valid; in the second, the easement height limit was established, and in the third judgment, the court ruled that the parties involved in the easement did intend to build an improved walkway.

The remaining issue to be determined at trial, set for October, is whether the easement allows an elevated walkway, which the city has a conceptual design for, Taraday said.

Taraday also went through statistics for both 2021 and the first half of 2022, noting that Lighthouse worked 3,367 hours in 2021 and 1,855 hours so far in 2022. During both time frames, engineering matters took up the most hours of the law firm’s time — at 680 hours in 2021 and 309 hours in 2022. In 2021, the police department came in second, with 454 hours, but that was mainly due to extensive work the law firm did to update the police department’s policy manual in response to recent statewide police reform legislation.

There are other legal matters that Lighthouse Law Group doesn’t get involved with because those are covered through the city’s insurance with Washington Cities Insurance Authority.

Taraday also addressed questions that have been raised about the city attorney’s role in working with the city. He noted that their client is not any one individual but the municipality, which is represented by “duly authorized constituents of the city.” Those include the mayor and city councilmembers, city department directors and designated staff.

The citizens, Taraday said, “are one step further removed” as they are “not duly authorized representatives.”

“But you hear from them and as appropriate you give us direction based upon what you are hearing from your constituents,” he added.

What’s tricky about that relationship, Taraday said, is that the rules of professional conduct for attorneys “actually prevent us from having that kind of direct interaction with the citizens.” As a result, when legal issues come up in public, “I’m not allowed to engage directly with the public to explain whatever it is that they might be wondering about.”

He went on to say that at times he wished he could offer explanations, especially when he sees questions raised “in the various local news websites.” The city council or mayor could direct the city attorney to engage in those conversations, Taraday said, adding it could benefit the public. However, such a duty would take up “a tremendous amount of our time,” he added.

Taraday then talked about the three types of city attorney contracts: Flat fee, retainer and hourly. The Lighthouse Law Group has always worked for a flat monthly fee, but that is ususual. “I think Edmonds is the only city in Washington that gets an all-inclusive flat fee from a law firm,” he said.

Lighthouse earned a flat monthly fee of $51,878 ($622,536 annually) for all of its work, including litigation. Based on the 3,367 hours Lighthouse logged for Edmonds in 2021, the firm’s attorneys have an average hourly rate of $185. That’s compared to an average hourly market rate of approximately $250 hour, which would translate into $841,750 if the firm billed hourly.

Councilmember Laura Johnson asked about the history of Lighthouse agreeing to work for a flat fee and also wondered why the firm would agree to such an arrangement.

Taraday replied that Lighthouse was formed shortly before the City of Edmonds issued a request for proposals for law firms in 2010. “We didn’t have a long track record,” Taraday explained. “We were a brand-new law firm and even though we had a great team…in order to attract a major client like Edmonds, we knew that we were going to have to think outside of the box. The flat fee was our solution.”

Since then, Lighthouse has decided to continue its arrangement because its contract with Edmonds provides stability that the small firm “otherwise would not have,” he said.

In other business, the council discussed next steps for filling its vacant Position 1 council seat. Seventeen candidates have applied for appointment to the seat, and the applications are available for review here.

The council agreed on the following interview schedule, to be conducted virtually via Zoom: Ten candidates will be interviewed from 9:55 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27 and the remaining seven will be interviewed from 7:55 to 11:15 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 29. Each candidate will be allocated 25 minutes, with two-and-a-half minutes for opening and closing comments.

Also approved was the format: Each councilmember will have three minutes to ask the same question to each applicant; follow-up questions will be allowed if possible within the time limits. Since the interviews will be open and viewable over Zoom, in fairness to the first applicant to interview, the councilmembers’ questions will be included in the agenda memo for the special meeting.

As for the appointment process itself, now set for the Tuesday, Sept. 6 council meeting, each councilmember can nominate a candidate from the list of applicants. Councilmembers are given the nomination and ballot forms and the city clerk collects each round and tabulates them. The first nominee to get four councilmembers’ votes is the winner.

The council was going to consider updates to city code governing the city attorney Tuesday night, but agreed to delay that after it was discovered that red-lined changes weren’t showing up in the document before them.

Finally, the council agreed to put on a future consent agenda a proposal to reduce the size of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission from 12 members to seven. The commission has had difficulty in recent years generating a quorum to hold its meetings, and the smaller size is more aligned with the size of other city commissions, city staff said.

— By Teresa Wippel


  1. This is very enlightening information regarding our current legal representation. Basically Lighthouse Law Group was formed by a group of inexperienced (in the field of Municipal Law) lawyers with the express goal of obtaining Edmonds as it’s primary client to carve out their place in the business. Their view is that they work directly for the “Representatives” of the citizens of the city and in fact are ethically duty bound not to discuss issues with individual citizens. Does all this sound especially good to everyone or anyone. Doesn’t sound good to me.

    1. Sounds fine to me, Clint. The client is the city council, not 40,000+ Edmonds residents; it’s the council who the law firm has an ethical obligation to provide with a legal opinion and to represent in legal matters. And I think it does make sense that the city’s law firm is not to be influenced or harassed by members of the public who may have a vested interest in something the law firm is working on.

  2. Bill, this system certainly works well when the city decides to sue it’s own citizens to take away their property rights. (Ebb Tide situation) Are you telling me the city attorney only represents the city Council? Sure looks to me like he thinks he mainly represents the Mayor and staff when I watch the Council meetings. For $622,000 per year couldn’t we afford to hire a couple in house attorneys specialized only in municipal law? The Mayor and Council could each have their own attorney and disgruntled citizens could at least make contact with the Council’s attorney.

  3. The propriety of the City attorney interacting with citizens is not altered by the method by which the City’s legal services are provided (in house versus contracted). RPC 1.6 applies to all lawyers and all clients.

    It is the City of Edmonds that is the client of the City Attorney. The Mayor, the Council, and Municipal Judge are the client’s “duly authorized constituents”. Similar to government contract law, there are authorized agents who make decisions on behalf of the government entity.

  4. Hi Bill,

    I provide the following to try and be helpful. The client of the City Attorney is the Municipal Corporation of the City of Edmonds. The Organization Chart for the Municipal Corporation is found on page 13 of the City’s 2022 Adopted Budget. At the top of the Organization Chart are the citizens of Edmonds.

    Under the citizens of Edmonds are the three branches of our City Government – the City Council, the Mayor, and the Municipal Court.

    If one looks more closely within the Budget, the City Attorney shows up under the Mayor in the Mayor’s Department. However, page 46 of the City’s 2022 Adopted Budget states:

    “The City Attorney advises and assists the City Council, Mayor, and staff in conforming to state and federal law in all municipal activities and defends the City against claims and suits.”

    When one looks at our City Code, Chapter 2.05 ECC states that the city council shall utilize the consultant selection process established by Chapter 2.80 ECC provided that the mayor shall participate with the city council consultant selection committee in the selection of up to three candidates for presentation to the city council for its final approval.

    One problem is, Chapter 2.80 ECC was repealed over twenty years ago, on April 25, 2000.

    All of this leads to confusion as evidenced by Councilmember Tibbott’s question last night about what projects the City Attorney is working on for the Mayor. The City Attorney informed Councilmember Tibbott that he could not answer his question due to attorney client privilege.

    Usually the party that pays for the legal services is the client and owns the attorney client privilege. The City Attorney relationship with all of the parties on the City’s Organization Chart is complicated.

  5. Watching city Council meetings, it looks pretty obvious to me that this attorney considers the Executive branch his client. As you point out, Ken, a Council member (Tibbott) was denied an answer based on his attorney client relationship with the Mayor. This certainly doesn’t suggest an attorney client relationship with the Council as Mr. Norman asserts above. The citizens are not well served by this current relationship in my view.

  6. The more I think about this particular city attorney arrangement, the more I question it. Lighthouse Law Group was basically formed with the idea of Edmonds being it’s primary client and got the business by offering a flat fee system that other firms would not or could not offer. It’s acknowledged that the firm needs Edmond’s contract to maintain it’s on going stability. This seems like a case of public funds being used to promote the welfare and existence of a specific private business. It may be innocent enough, but it gives the appearance of a big conflict of interest and a huge incentive for the Attorney to be in the good graces of the Executive branch that has a lot to say about whether they keep the business or lose it. There should be a well established and specific periodic bidding out of this business overseen by a citizen’s commission. not the mayor or the council. That is if the citizens really are at the top of the pecking order as implied in the organization chart that Mr. Reidy refers to.

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