EAST LANSING, Mich. — After just under 11 months with their current city attorney Foster Swift, East Lansing is putting out a proposal for a new one.
Members of the council have been trying to reach a negotiation with the law firm, but Mayor Jessy Gregg said they couldn't agree on a cost cap.
“Councilmember Watson and myself have been kind of negotiating with a team from Foster and Swift for about a month, we met with them maybe four times, and really the disagreement comes down to money,” Gregg said,
The current contract has the cap set at $500,000 dollars. Gregg said Foster and Swift feel like they're doing more work than they're being paid for which is why they want to increase that cap. While Gregg said she doesn't disagree with them asking for more money, she said it was a lot.
“I think at that point when you’re going to do potentially a double-digit percentage increase on a contract, just the way that we put all of our other contracts for services out to bid so that we can demonstrate to our voters and our residents that they’re paying market rate," Gregg said.
This comes just eleven months after the council voted to terminate previous city attorney Tom Yeadon's contract.
“He had experience with our codes and our policies, but when it came to interpreting larger issues of constitutionality and things like that, he took a very conservative view on a lot of those things,” Gregg said.
Which resulted in the resignation of former Mayor Ruth Beier and Council Member Mark Meadows.
“I felt at that time that there should’ve been meetings with the city attorney to see if they could iron out whatever differences there might be which I think were really personality conflicts,” Meadows said.
Meadows said he isn't surprised to hear the city is putting out a proposal for a new city attorney because the cost of legal services has gone up.
“That cap was roughly equal to the cap that was on our prior attorney and obviously it doesn’t work for this law firm because the amount of legal services has gone up substantially,” Meadows said.
Meadows said he would like to see the council consider bringing legal services in-house.
“Before when we studied this, the costs of bringing them in just didn’t equate with this low-cost legal services that we were receiving, but now probably the numbers actually support the idea of bringing legal services in-house,” Meadows said.
Gregg said she's not opposed to that and would need to discuss it with the rest of the council.
“We could start the process by doing kind of a hybrid, where we bring in one on staff legal counselor to be kind of a day-to-day point person for our staff on issues that don’t require quite as much nuance," Gregg said.
But doesn't think now is the right time.
“We are experiencing a time where we have a really high need of legal expertise and we kind of need to guarantee our staff because they’re the ones that are really pushing policy for us,” Gregg said.
Gregg said this proposal for a city attorney will look a little different compared to prior years.
“In addition to having a deep knowledge of municipal law and kind of the intersection of municipal law, county law, state law, federal law which is very important for us as a council, we also need to have someone that can prosecute criminal prosecution,” Gregg said.
That could mean on city attorney doing both or those roles could be split between two attorneys which could open up the bidding process to more firms who may not have wanted to apply before.
The city manager is working on drafting the proposals which will go out as soon as it's complete and could put the city right up to the expiration date of the Foster Swift Contract that expires at the end of September.
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