Is City Council trying to pull a fast one?

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

In case you missed it, last Monday the Vero Beach City Council held a special call meeting that lasted only five minutes. It was to decide on the five finalist candidates for City Attorney. Another special call meeting is scheduled for THIS FRIDAY at 1:00 p.m. to discuss the five finalists and “possibly” make a decision on one.

The problem is, well several problems. First of all, one of the five candidates is not a person, but a law firm. How can we hire a law firm to be City Attorney, you ask? Well, according to the City Charter, you can’t. So why is a law firm one of the five finalists? Because Council members Zudans, Howle and Brackett chose them. Council members Young and Moss did not select them as one of their five, presumably because they feel a law firm is not a person, and the City Charter calls for a City Attorney to be selected.

The second problem is we have a recent history of City Council majorities making unpopular decisions, usually with Councilman Zudans in the lead to make rush decisions before the public can react. The fact that he only chose two finalists, not five, with one being the law firm, should be suspicious. The other reason for suspicion is that he has already advocated eliminating the City Attorney office and going instead with outside counsel.

The third problem is that City Council cannot arbitrarily eliminate this Charter office without a referendum. Zudans has indicated that he is anxious to make the decision on City Attorney as soon as possible, like at the special call meeting THIS FRIDAY?

So you should be asking, “Why are we even considering an outside law firm instead of a person to fill the role of City Attorney? We know how much more expensive outside counsel would be, and besides, City Attorney is a Charter office to be filled by an employee of the City.”

To get answers, you need to attend this Friday’s special call meeting at 1:00 p.m. the consequences of this decision, if it is made in favor of the outside law firm:

  1. A major change in the structure of our City would occur without the public having any input. I say that because we have learned from City Council decisions over the past year and a half, that what the public wants has little bearing on what the Zudans-led Council wants unless the reaction is so overwhelming they have to back off (Remember the River House brewery? Sale of Dodgertown Golf Course?)
  2. Decisions can be made about the City’s future by outsiders “advising” Council on an hourly rate basis.
  3.  Since 2011, the City Attorney’s office has won 100% of all major cases that have been adjudicated. Why mess with success?

You voted for a new City Council that represented your wishes, not more of the same. This and other decisions made before the next City election in November could have far reaching negative consequences.

 

 

5 comments

  1. Beyond the fact that selecting a law firm rather than an employee as the City Attorney violates the City Charter, it is simply the wrong thing to do. It seems clear that the Council majority did not learn their lesson last year when they did not listen to their constituents.

    At a high level, the choice between an employee-attorney and an outsourced Council comes down to Council and community integration vs. depth of expertise. It could be argued that the outsourced model gives the City access to a more qualified lawyer, one backed up by other firm specialists.

    However, I contend that the City Attorney role is far more effective as an integral member of the City’s Management team, as someone who resides locally and understands resident concerns, particularly in connection with City Charter protections. We need a generalist attorney that can direct the myriad legal actions and requests for advice, often with little lead time.

    Further, there is no question in my mind that Vero can attract a superbly-qualified City Attorney for compensation that is far less than the cost of a full-time law firm attorney. Our community is a highly desirable and affordable place for mid-career professionals to live, as evidenced by the current senior City managers.

    My overarching fear is that the outsourced model positions a well-connected firm to drive an effort to weaken City Charter protections and relax building height/density restrictions. This effort must be challenged!

  2. Worst piece of crap council in Vero Beach’s history at it again! Way too incompetent to do anything right. Is anybody happy with these losers giving up one of the last open parcels of land on the North side of Barber bridge? Same stupid idiots sold the power plant, thanks to their puppet masters FPL, giving away $50,000 campaign donations to each, and now they have no money! Stupid is as stupid does.

  3. A city attorney is better able to grasp city matters than a firm complete with many attorneys. If on any given matter the “firm” attorney is not familiar with the City Charter as would be the City attorney well…you can imagine the consequences. Taking that thought one step further, can you imagine the so called “firm” having all of it’s “firm” members be well read on the Vero Beach City Charter. Another aspect of the City attorney is his/her availability to the public as well as the Council to get answers in a prompt manner without having to charge an hourly fee for every little detail of the law pertaining to City matters.

  4. Hiring a law firm is not a good idea. What probably will happen is the city will get a set of revolving door lawyers rather than one permanent attorney. I can see it now;the city will get a replay of “Who’s on first ” routine. No thanks.

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