To the Editor,
An important agenda item is scheduled for the City Commission’s Jan. 18 meeting – specifically, the consideration and possible action to select a city attorney. My only interest in submitting this letter is to provide some “food for thought” in this endeavor to the citizens of San Benito. Given the fact that, albeit not a true indication of what the city has spent on legal fees during the past two years, no less than $14,000 was spent in November, 2010, on outside legal fees, it is quite apparent that much thought must be given to this issue.
In the past, I have been involved in selecting agency attorneys on at least six occasions, none of which involved less than eight to 10 hours of review and consideration. In each situation, a three-member panel was utilized, with each panel member independently reviewing and scoring the attorneys’ proposals based on weighted technical evaluation factors. In most cases, interviews of the prospective law firms were conducted by said evaluation panels, and in all cases, hourly rates/fees were included in the proposals, thus eliminating the possibility of any “behind the scenes” reverse-auction bidding or the appearance of impropriety.
To the chase: First, I contemplate and hope that the City Commission will be provided with some type of evaluation instruments with which to evaluate the law firm proposals. To leave such an evaluation to simply a discussion, without written documentation justifying the pros and cons of each proposal, would be a travesty and would possibly open the door to what a recent reader referred to as “compadrismo.” Second, some proposals are brief, comprised of two to three pages, while others may be comprised of 15 to 20 pages. Simply reading and notating the pros and cons of each proposal takes no less than 30 minutes. Reviewing seven proposals reportedly submitted to the city will take quite a length period of time. I am eager to see how long the commission will be discussing and evaluating the proposals in executive session. Third, I seriously doubt that the commission (and it would behoove a member of the commission to accomplish this task) will have an opportunity to check the law firms’ references during the evening hours while in executive session. However, this needs to be done in a timely and above-board manner (not to say that it will not be done in this manner). Fourth, the gist of the rationale for advertising for legal services was the financial burden being faced by the city and the on-going cost of the present legal counsel, although other issues were touched on. Yet, it is surprising that this major factor (legal rates/fees) was not requested by the city in its request for qualifications. (It is my understanding that the present city attorney’s fee is $150 per hour, while the attorney hired to represent the city, in the civil service hearings fee is $400 per hour.) Fifth, the city charter states that the city attorney will represent the city in all legal matters. Recently, this has not been the case. A purported “conflict of interest” has been given by city officials as to the reason for hiring outside legal firms rather than our present attorney. Interestingly, none of the newspaper accounts relating to this issue have stated that the city attorney herself has verified these conflicts of interests.
In summary, if the City of San Benito is to prosper and survive, there must be transparency in its government, and issues such as the aforementioned should be placed on the table and discussed prior to a decision and vote by our city commissioners. Please join with me in wishing the city commission success in this endeavor, and I encourage you to become involved in your city government. The reason bad city governments exist is because they are allowed by their citizens!
Esiquio “Zeke” Luna, Jr.