City attorney might become full-time position

Sequim's current half-time city attorney position could become full time along with a full-time legal assistant and a half-time deputy city attorney.

The increased staffing could save the city money by reducing the amount paid for contracted attorneys and overtime, interim city manager Bob Spinks told the city council at its Aug. 4 study session.

Spinks will provide an updated job description for a full-time city attorney plus a full-time legal assistant to the city council along with a new job description for a permanent half-time deputy city attorney.

The city's number of critical projects has increased so the attorney position has grown beyond being part time, Spinks told the council.

In the 2008 city budget, the contracted city attorney services provided by Craig Ritchie were converted to a permanent part-time employee position with a part-time legal assistant, Erika Hamerquist.

Spinks said that budget shows the city spending $292,221 for that half-time city attorney and half-time legal assistant plus a contracted deputy city attorney (Chris Shea) who primarily handles the city's prosecutions.

So he is proposing changing those positions to a city attorney, legal assistant and half-time deputy attorney, Spinks said.

City Councilor Erik Erichsen said they should look at that issue as part of the overall budget, not piecemeal.

Spinks said normally he would agree but overtime for the attorney costs a lot of money and the prosecutor contract only runs through September.

A deputy city attorney would be cheaper than the $160,000 bid received last year for a city prosecutor, he said.

In a memo to the council, Spinks wrote "In 2007, when the contract ended, the submitted renewal for prosecution services totaled $160,000 for 2008. This was a substantial increase over past years' costs."

Spinks said the increase was not unexpected since the number of arrests and case filings for misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor arrests had more than doubled from 2004 to 2007.

According to Spinks' memo, converting the positions should save enough money that no additional funding for 2008 should be necessary beyond that in the 2008 budget.

"There will be ongoing costs to provide legal services in future years but the city will save money in the long run by not paying for more expensive contract legal services," the memo stated.

"Specialized contracted legal services will always need to be an available option for the city.

"It is anticipated that by bringing the majority of labor law legal services in-house, the city will reduce the current level of expenses and their growth that has and is being generated to conduct city business," the memo stated.

The North Olympic Peninsula's other cities and their legal staff costs:

• The city of Port Townsend (population 8,925) pays $181,883 for a full-time city attorney, full-time legal assistant and contract prosecutor.

• The city of Port Angeles (population 19,170) pays $403,030 for 5.73 "full-time equivalent" employees that include three city attorneys and support staff.

• The city of Forks (population 3,205) pays $97,815 for a city attorney, Rod Fleck, who also is the city planner, and a legal assistant.

The city attorney provides legal advice on issues that include labor law including employment and personnel issues, land use and environmental issues, risk management, utility and water law, contract drafting and negotiation, real estate transactions and municipal code updates.

The city attorney also provides legal services in areas that have grown in recent years such as public records act compliance, contract review and bidding, city council and committee questions, negotiation of tort claims and city ordinance updates.

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