The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Clinton

January 17, 2014

Comparable cities to Clinton contract for legal services

CLINTON — CLINTON — A new direction may loom for Clinton regarding how it will fill its city attorney vacancy. However, the practice of contracting legal services appears common among similarly sized cities in Iowa.

Former attorney Jeff Farwell’s December resignation has kept the new Clinton City Council busy deliberating over how to move forward. Last week, the council appointed local firm Frey, Haufe and Current, P.L.C. to handle temporary counsel work at $160 per hour, and it discussed the long-term solution during a portion of Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Clinton can either hire a full-time replacement or contract services with a law group, and city administrator Jessica Kinser has been directed to research both avenues. Administrators at three comparable cities — Mason City, Burlington and Muscatine — all said the second option has worked out well for them.

“It’s nice to have the access we need, but not have to pay that salary of an individual,” said Brett Trout, Mason City city administrator. “You’re using the service when you need it, rather than when you have a staff person.”

Jim Ferneau, Burlington city manager, shared those sentiments.

“I like to be able to work with a firm that has good depth,” he said.

Clinton is the 18th largest city in Iowa with 26,647 citizens. The three cities surveyed rank between 16th and 22nd statewide and administrators reported varying estimated budget sizes (as low as $17.9 million and $35 million on the high).

Each municipality also has found its own unique way to apply contracted services. None of them use a single independent firm to cover all legal services, and all three created a new role called “the city prosecutor.”

“Essentially, it’s the work that’s being done with our police department,” Trout said.

“With regards to prosecution, it really helps to have somebody local,” Ferneau said. “That’s the guy who has to be in court on trial days.”

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