The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

April 23, 2014

New legal services agreement proceeds

By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON – By one vote, the Clinton City Council voted for Lynch Dallas over local firm Frey, Haufe and Current as its next city attorney service. On Tuesday, in a show of solidarity, the council was unanimous, officially hiring the Cedar Rapids group.

“For better or for worse, this is a position that will report directly to us,” Councilman John Rowland said. “I think it’s important that we rally around the position and establish a working relationship right from the start.”

Now, as the city transitions into its first contracted legal services agreement, work remains for both sides to feel out the arrangement. Lynch Dallas will officially begin on May 1, giving lead attorney Pat O’Connell time to catch up on Clinton’s current standing. On the city’s end, City Administrator Jessica Kinser informed the council that ordinance changes and another request for proposals loom.

Formally or informally, the council must also decide how it wishes to keep in touch with O’Connell and others.

“Ultimately this is something for you to all be on the same page about,” Kinser said. The council decided to wait for the first billing cycle to see if a policy is needed. “I think it’s important that you as a body have an idea of how this relationship is going to work.”

Unlike the previous salaried arrangement, vacated by Jeff Farwell in December, the new “legal services” agreement means that Lynch Dallas will be paid a wage when handling Clinton’s affairs. The firm agreed to a $135 hourly rate for senior associates, though smaller tasks can be handled by people lower on the payscale for as little as $85 per hour.

Since Lynch Dallas attorneys aren’t city employees, this means most time spent corresponding between both sides will be billed to Clinton. For the sake of communication, O’Connell and Kinser recommended the city establish a liaison to minimize costs.

“I don’t charge an hourly rate and the previous city attorney didn’t charge an hourly rate,” Kinser said, adding she heard throughout the winter budget process about how decreased spending was the council’s priority. “So that is a new component for you all to think about.”

O’Connell said he considers the city to be his client, meaning whenever an individual council member contacts him, it’s on behalf of Clinton.

“I would assume you’re calling me in your capacity as a member of the city council, not just to say ‘Hey, I need some advice,’ “ he said, drawing chuckles. “Don’t laugh, because I’ve seen it happen.

“Any councilperson that calls me and says they need my advice, you would have to understand that having had the conversation, I would have to disclose that as a person who’s another member of the body I represent.”

Lynch Dallas did not list prosecuting services in the contract, citing the physical distance between the firm and city as a reason against handling daily courtroom work. The morning following the meeting, Kinser issued an RFP for prosecutor services, with plans for a similar process as filling the city attorney vacancy.

The prosecutor role is also a new arrangement for Clinton. As such, some ordinance changes are necessary. For the new city attorney and prosecutor to officially work, Kinser spelled out the “legal services” definition.

As a Clinton native, O’Connell said he was “enthusiastic” about working for the city since he learned about the job opening.

“We’re in this infancy stage where no one knows how this is going to work,” he said, assuring the council things will clear up as time moves forward.

On behalf of his firm, Clinton attorney John Frey thanked the council for working with him on an interim basis for the last three months.