Sterling HeightsJune 29, 2012
City extends legal services contracts
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
A contract for traditional legal services sailed through City Council’s June 19 consent agenda swiftly and unanimously, but the decision of whether to keep the city’s labor attorney became cause for discussion.
At issue was a proposed one-year extension with Keller Thoma, a Detroit-based firm brought on board to handle labor issues in July 2010 as things began to heat up with the city’s unions.
Councilman Joseph Romano said he preferred Keller Thoma only be used in the future for Public Act 312 negotiations, referring to the binding arbitration available to police and fire unions.
“Any or all future labor negotiations, I think, should be negotiated right now by the city manager and the administration and our own legal department,” said Romano.
According to Romano, the city has expended around $143,000 on Keller Thoma’s services since July 2010. The latest contract estimated the 2012-13 fiscal year’s cost at $100,000.
Romano said he felt Keller Thoma has “done a great job,” but might not be in touch with “the pulse of the city.”
“I just feel that our administration and our legal team can do as good a job, if not a better job, in negotiating with what we have left,” he said.
City Manager Mark Vanderpool said negotiations involving Public Act 312 eligible groups require a convoluted legal process, but agreed that there are some areas where the city could scale back reliance on Keller Thoma and employ its own internal team instead.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor said he thinks the city should keep Keller Thoma on as proposed and see how the latest round of negotiations with the Police and Fire departments pan out, and Councilwoman Barb Ziarko concurred.
In the end, council approved the contract 5-2, with Romano and Councilwoman Deanna Koski, who echoed Romano’s thoughts, voting against it.
Dennis DuBay, the Keller Thoma attorney handling Sterling Heights, did not return a call for comment by press time.
The traditional legal services agreement with O’Reilly Rancilio, meanwhile, seemed to be a far easier decision. City Attorney Jeff Bahorski said the firm has represented Sterling Heights since the city’s incorporation in 1968.
The agreement, which extends from July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2014, incorporates no changes to hourly fees or costs, and continues a 5 percent reduction in rates agreed upon in June 2010 in conjunction with the city’s Vendor Cost Reduction Program.
It calls for an annual retainer of $44,650, which covers attorney attendance at all City Council meetings, rendering of oral legal opinions to council, and preparation and drafting of council resolutions, among other standard tasks.
The contract also contains a schedule of hourly rates ranging from $73-$131 for other litigation and nonlitigation work, depending on the level of expertise of the individual handling it.
Bahorski said the city is now paying O’Reilly Rancilio a lower retainer than in 1994, and in a memo to council, City Clerk Walt Blessed indicated the hourly rates in the new contract are less than those assessed in fiscal year 2006-07.
Finance and Budget Director Brian Baker said Sterling Heights has budgeted $670,000 for city attorney services, more than half of which covers costs related to O’Reilly Rancilio staffers’ appearances in and work associated with 41-A District Court cases.
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