Council votes to continue contracting with Lighthouse Law Group for city attorney services

Lighthouse Law Group attorneys — L-R Jeff Taraday, Patricia Taraday and Angela Tinker — speak to the city council last year.

After a city council subcommittee spent several months reviewing options for future city attorney services, the Edmonds City Council at its Tuesday night meeting voted unanimously to continue the city’s practice of contracting with an outside firm rather than hiring an in-house attorney. The council also approved — by a 4-2 vote with one absention — an amendment to continue contracting with the city’s current firm, Lighthouse Law Group.

The city attorney assessment subcommittee, which includes Councilmembers Jenna Nand, Susan Paine and Dave Teitzel, was tasked with collecting key information to help the council analyze the city’s options for obtaining long-term city attorney services. The subcommittee was formed after the council Dec. 6 approved a one-year contract with Lighthouse, which has provided city attorney services for Edmonds since 2011.

The subcommittee completed a range of tasks aimed at helping the council make a decision on next steps. These included issuing a satisfaction survey to internal city attorney clients and contacting judges who have handled litigation involving Lighthouse to solicit input on the firm’s quality of work. The subcommittee also researched and presented costs estimates and pro/con findings to the council regarding contracting vs. in-house city attorney services, and collected key information from similar-sized cities about their city attorney arrangements

At last week’s council meeting, Teitzel asked councilmembers to review the results of the subcommittee’s final project: a survey of nine comparator cities on their city attorney models and expenses. The decision before the council Tuesday night was whether to move forward with issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for a contracted outside city attorney or hiring an in-house attorney.

All councilmembers expressed support for continuing to contracting with an outside firm rather than hiring an in-house attorney, for several reasons.

For one, having an outside firm with attorneys in a range of specialties — such as those employed by Lighthouse — means the city has various legal experts it can call on for legal advice. That wouldn’t be the case with one in-house attorney, and the city would have the added expense of having to contract with outside attorneys anyway.

Councilmembers Teitzel and Vivian Olson also noted that the in-house attorney would report to the mayor, which Teitzel said “could compromise the independence of the city attorney, since the mayor is the direct supervisor and may exert political pressure on the decisions on the city attorney.”

(Earlier in the discussion, Mayor Mike Nelson also expressed support for continuing to contract with Lighthouse, stating he believes the firm “has done a great job.”)

Teitzel pointed out that an in-house attorney and related costs — from paralegals to training to materials — could also be more expensive, noting that in 2022 the annual in-house attorney expense ranged from $725,000 in Shoreline to $1.5 million in Puyallup. In comparison, Edmonds paid the Lighthouse Law Group $647,000 in 2022.

Teitzel made the motion that the city proceed with a contracted, rather than in-house, city attorney.

Speaking in favor ot the motion, Olson said she was concerned about what would happen if the in-house attorney were ill or on vacation, meaning the city would have to hire another attorney to fill in. She also noted that “almost all of the pros of going in house are met by our particular contracted service with Lighthouse,” including familiarity with city issues and personnel, long-term commitment and institutional knowledge and accessibility.

Councilmember Nand said she was not only in favor of retaining the contract model but also would like to bypass the RFP process altogether so the city could continue to contract with Lighthouse.

“I don’t think that the City of Edmonds is large enough administratively to justify having an in-house counsel,” Nand said, adding the city’s needs “are more than adequately served” by the contract attorney model. “We would be taking on way more fuss and expense and just headaches than we need to because basically we are contracting out to Lighthouse to manage all of that administrative burden for us.”

Councilmember Paine then proposed an amendment to Teitzel’s motion that the city continue its contract with Lighthouse. “We’ve had very effective counsel who knows us all and can speak to our concerns,” she said. “Their staffing model has been very effective for all of us with really superb services across the board,” Paine said, adding she was hopeful a new contract could be approved with Lighthouse as soon as next week.

Teitzel said that while he’s had positive experience with Lighthouse, he wouldn’t support Paine’s motion “because I think we’ve heard many voices from citizens saying it is really time after 12 or 13 years to take a look at what’s out in the market.”

Councilmember Will Chen agreed, stating “we just need to see what’s out there. If Lighthouse continues to show up as one of the strongest candidates, then logically it will become our selected contracted city attorney to continue the service.”

While supporting the proposal to continue the contract model, Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she believes “it’s important to our citizen base to be judicious in this because it has been a long-term relationship (with Lighthouse) and there has been some lack of trust that has occurred within the citizenry on specific issues.”

Nand had a different view: “My philosophy is, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” she said in supporting Paine’s amendment. Spending a few months managing a city attorney process, Nand added, isn’t a good use of the council’s time. “Let’s as a council focus on the actual issues facing the city and not fall prey to a very vocal minority that has issues with our city attorney,” she said.

In the end, the council voted 4-2 to support Paine’s amendment, with Buckshnis and Chen voting no and Teitzel abstaining. The council then unanimously approved Teitzel’s main motion as amended.

In other business, the council heard the 2022 annual report from South County Fire and Rescue, which provides fire and emergency medical services under contract. South County Fire officials are scheduled to come back to the council in about a month to discuss the specifics of that contract. You can see their 2022 annual report here.

And it awarded a contract to Shoreline Construction for the city’s 2023 utility replacement project. Shoreline Construction submitted the low responsive bid of $2.6 million for the work, which includes replacing and upgrading existing water lines and sewer lines at various locations around the city. The total cost — including a management reserve and construction management, inspection and testing — is $3.4 million.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. I love this thinking of our CM’s about obtaining our legal advice. “Well they are relatively cheap; they know how we operate, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” That’s sounds like a dangerous approach to hiring someone to prevent huge law suit judgements against you and keep you informed about what is legal and what isn’t. I’m pretty sure the “I know him/her and he/she works cheap” approach wouldn’t be the way I would choose a lawyer to keep me out of jail and/or from paying out large legal settlements in my personal life, so, please tell me just why that’s a good approach for our city to take?

    1. Hi Clint,

      I wanted to take a moment to further explain my sentiment of, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” regarding our relationship with Lighthouse.

      We just had a murder on Highway 99 and a child shot in our community. I think it is imperative that the council focus on public safety and expediting the creation of a permanent police substation on Highway 99. I don’t think spending two months and countless hours of council members’ time managing an RFP process that would probably end up with us hiring Lighthouse again is a good use of the council’s time in this moment.

      The city council has a finite amount of time and energy to focus on its priorities in 2023. One of our priorities has to be maintaining law and order in the city of Edmonds, and making sure that residents and visitors to our community are safe from random acts of horrific violence. I prioritize increasing our permanent police presence on Highway 99 over trying to replace the city attorney at this time. You might disagree with my decision to push council to bypass the RFP process this year, but I wanted to explain my reasoning to those concerned.

      Jenna Nand
      Council Member, Pos. #7

  2. CP Nand….deflect much? So, explain to me why precluding any other firms from even bidding is a good idea? No up coming firm even gets to try (you know women owned firms, minority owned firms,,,that whole diversity thing you pontificate upon every chance you get?). The violence in the HWY 99 area is not new but Council has ignored that area for so long while spending “valuable time” and taxpayer money arguing about roof top decks, street fairs, expensive parks in the bowl, pursuing private property owners on the waterfront, and campers in parks. Two young women were robbed at gunpoint near lake Ballinger…didn’t see Council drop everything then. Or when the clerk was shot at the 7/11. The lack of inclusion areas outside the bowl has come home to roost. No bid contracts are a systemic equity problem, particularly for young professionals of all stripes. Exclusionary process is what you advocated for last night. Well played.

    1. I own a female and minority-led law firm. My own law firm. Perhaps pick your insults better next time, Ms. Talmidge.

  3. So we have to drop everything we are supposed to be doing to ramp up the fight for law and order. That’s as good an excuse as any for just going along with who ever is the mayor I guess. No wonder CMs are running unopposed(so far) while there is a battle royal developing for mayor. The mayor is the only person in town with any real power under our form of government and the only job really worth having in terms of power and anywhere near adequate compensation for time it takes to do the job. We seem to jump from crisis to crisis here and never really get the jobs that really need to be done, done.

    1. Hello Clint –
      I value your opinion but you continue to bring up the City Manager aspect. As I have said to you before, with the simple majority in the rule for about 2 years or until 11/23/22 when elected official Chen took his seat after the 2021 budget was slam through by the CP with the adjournment meeting process and the public hearing being truncated to not allow all citizens to comment …. And so on. Those 2 + years shows how powerful legislators can be and look where we are with the Tree Code, Stormwater Code, CEMP, bike lanes at West Gate and so on – so let’s not lose site of the power of the legislative branch.

      I am hopefully more will enter the Council race.

      1. Hi Diane. The only way the Nelson four had their power was by being a non-independent voting block for whatever things Nelson (or any other given Strong mayor, which you may soon be) is/was pushing as the hot set up for everyone in Edmonds. I’d say that’s a systemic problem as much as anything, but we will continue to agreeably, disagree on that subject; as I know I might as well be whistling Dixie in terms of any systemic change in the works anytime soon.

        While on the Mayor subject, I urge everyone in town to get a copy of Diane’s little campaign sheet which outlines her view of how a Strong Mayor should function in the interests of good government and representing everyone in town. It’s concise, clear and a good little read. Remember a vote for Shipley in the Primary is probably as good as a vote for Nelson (with three people diluting the non-Nelson vote). Personally I want to see Diane and Mike R. in the General and the only way to get that is vote for them in the Primary.

        1. I watched the Mayoral campaign from 2019. I heard Mr Shipley and Mr Nelson. Watching it now you really see what promises were kept and who may lean in what direction.
          I am pretty sure I am following the same idea that Clinton is tentatively supporting. I will vote for Diane and Mike Rosen in the primary.
          I do think we need a strong progressive L on our council as it is a big voice here so I like Susan Paine for this. Sure she is L. She makes no secret of it and she is very smart and very polite, not like what we had before if you all remember. I think her voice should be heard and I trust her to tell it like she sees it. SO yeah I will vote for Susan Paine also. And I of course will vote for Vivian Olson.

        2. Just an FYI that each voter can only vote for one candidate in the primary.

  4. This decision has me a bit concerned. Perhaps there are details being left out. To exclude an RFP process from a contractor’s perspective is great, but from a taxpayer perspective is not. To suggest that Lighthouse would be chosen even if there was an RFP process sheds light on other concerns – the council could have Sole Sourced this opportunity, which provides other contractors to challenge, if there is not an open RFP.

    What am I missing? This one causes concern for me. Let’s pick who we want and damn the process.

  5. The Council’s responsibility should have been to have an open and honest discussion and deliberation including the public on whether or not the city attorney situation here is broken or not and what should be done about it, if it is. Instead Susan Paine teed the ball up to the mayor and he and most of the CMs just decreed “it ain’t broke” and it’s all good as it is. Good government for the citizens who pay the bills? You tell me.

    1. I noticed that the attorney issue was on the agenda so I attended the meeting and addressed it in the audience comments segment prior to it being taken up by the council members. One other citizen also spoke about it. Any member of the public could also have given their opinion in person or virtually.

  6. Ron, I agree with you. There were plenty of opportunities for us citizens to participate in this process over the last few months if we wanted too. The way the Council handled the city attorney discussion and decision was the most transparent that I have seen. Through their committee, they demonstrated how using a disciplined process can yield a civil discussion based on facts and data. Both the administration and councilmembers seemed pleased with the performance of the city attorney, and so, with their cost analysis, were comfortable with voting for retention. The best work that I’ve seen from the Council on any subject. I recognize some will not agree with the decision, however I don’t think they can say it was rushed or without due diligence.

  7. Curious how any citizen would have known to show up at the Council Meeting and speak about a bypass of the RFP process. Such was not an option under the Council’s Approved Work Plan and there was no discussion of bypassing the RFP process on City Council’s Agenda. What was on the Agenda was:

    Edmonds City Attorney Direction Decision – Contract or In-House? (45 min)

    If the decision was made to contract, next step per the Approved Work Plan was:

    Issue RFP requesting proposals from alternative city attorney service contractors.

    1. I had no communications with anyone regarding this issue. The comments I made at the council meeting originated 100% with me. Obviously I was very pleased to later learn that the majority of council members had come to the same conclusions as me.

      1. Mr. Wambolt – I’m not tracking your comments above. Who else would your comments have originated from but you?

        The point I am making is bypassing the RFP process was not on the City Council’s agenda. Nor was such a possibility under the Approved Work Plan.

        I didn’t speak Tuesday night because citizens had been told that one of two things would be happening in the coming weeks:

        Issue job bulletin requesting applicants, or

        Issue RFP requesting proposals from alternative city attorney service contractors

        Either of those outcomes was fine with me so I knew of no reason to make audience comments in person or virtually.

  8. Ron and Jim, I understand where you are coming from on this; but you aren’t considering some rather salient facts. Edmonds first contracted with L.H. when they were a brand new, untested and inexperienced company that was formed for the specific purpose of getting Edmond’s city business. Based on the facts that they are relatively inexpensive and really know “our system” we have just kept renewing their contract over several administrations now.

    As far as the Council doing it’s due diligence and completing it’s work, you are both half right. They did the first part of their assignment and then skipped the rest as an expediency, highly recommended by the mayor. In my view this is just “good ‘ol boy” and ” this is how we’ve always done it” type government. Those of us who oppose this approach were labeled , “a very vocal local minority we shouldn’t fall prey to,” or something close to that. Good ‘ol boys disrespecting many of their fellow citizens has been the norm here for years.

    1. After months of fact finding, and in a rare case of agreement between the Council and the Mayor, a motion was made and a decision was made with full transparency. I didn’t see any arm twisting and quite frankly like it when we hear from the mayor. It’s rare that we ever do. I would suggest that if he does interject himself into a discussion, then it’s open season to take him to task on the subject at hand. However, I’ve never seen that happen. And if councilmembers can’t or won’t think for themselves (as in a good ‘ol boys’ network), then we need new members. We’ll have a chance to clear the decks in November if we choose.

      I hear you about “this is how we’ve always done it”. I’ve heard from a previous Director that “it’s the Edmonds way”. I do agree that there is still room for improvement.

      1. So far the only “clearing of the decks” CM wise are people running unopposed for the open positions. I agree with Diane B. in hoping that changes soon.

  9. All I know is what I see. Susan Paine went from we need to look at all our options to the Mayor’s view (he openly admitted was biased in favor the no bid contract with L.H.) at the relative speed of light. To think this wasn’t pre meeting contrived really begs credulity. Neal Tibbot did “the Edmonds Connector pirouette” on this subject at just a slightly slower clip than Susan but with the same effect on the outcome.

    1. Some argue that coordination between the mayor and council is a good thing, based on being a partisan and think the role of the council members is to be subservient to the mayor. Others think that the council members should work for the electorate instead of being a servant of the mayor, and at least come up with independent conclusions. Council member Paine has spent her term being an attendant for the mayor and administration.

    2. Clint,

      Thank you for helping to make my point. The process was transparent. We saw the good work of the committee in bring facts and data to the Council meetings. We, as a community had the opportunity to engage over the months either during public comment or via email. We also saw, as you point out, the real-time (transparent) maneuvering by some councilmembers to get to a vote (yes, it was initially contrived, but it took all members to either object or to vote, one way or another). All within protocol (best I can tell). So, I’ll let you be the judge of which councilmembers could, or could not think for themselves.

      I still maintain that this was a transparent process based on facts and data – for a change.

      1. No bid, one estimate contracts are generally considered bad business practice. The Mayor is the CEO and the Council is the Board of Directors in our city business.

  10. T. I meant Or haha. Any news on Inslee suddenly announcing he will not run for governor. It would be interesting to see what people think of this. I was surprised when I saw this today on the news. Does anyone in Edmonds between 45-65 years old who is a moderate that wants to be the Governor??
    All the comments here I do agree with. I did see the subtle not so subtle but I too thought it went very well. So now we must fix what is broken in Edmonds. Infra and emotionally.

  11. One more. I used to call virtual and speak most weeks at meetings. Sometimes while watching I don’t want to repeat what someone has just said. Some times I have more questions than comments but that isn’t doable. It seems maybe the questions for us are too soon. Maybe more info before audience comments. Honestly there is a fear factor in all of this. Here, on FB you name it. If you do not live in a real safe area you are wise to be careful what you say. I know sometimes I want to say things but wonder will my car be tagged in the morning? Things like this. Many are watching but many have computer issues…I have that down now but it took me time as I am not a computer whiz. Your citizens care and well they aren’t used to public speaking which can be very intimidating for many. Public with Covid has been a challenge also for many. More will come I hope. I agree its important to learn as much as possible.

  12. And for those of you who are clearly well educated, masters with writing skills its just easier. SO help us. Don’t say we don’t care ok. WE CARE. I CARE a lot! I care about all in Edmonds but we have to get things more fair here. We must. OR we will not survive all of this violence in many ways. Shopping will wane, more will be hurt, more will take the law into their own hands. I will try to come up with something to say tomorrow night even if it is just hello and nice to see you all. XO

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