A few more thoughts on the City Attorney matter

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

It is obvious that many local residents, voters and taxpayers are concerned with the “sleight of hand-ling,” approach to deciding on a new City Attorney. That’s why many of you will be anxious to see how City Council handles the selection process tomorrow at 1 p.m.

While the City’s situation is unique, looking for two out of three Charter officers at the same time, added pressure exists because the interim City Attorney will be leaving in two weeks. The process has been handled as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

The City hired Colin Baenziger & Associates, an executive search firm that specializes in finding, qualifying and recommending candidates for important municipal government positions. Based on their research, the firm we hired has recommended to City Council six strong candidates for the City Attorney position. In his letter of recommendation, Colin Baenziger states, “We believe all the candidates are very strong and that any one of them would do an excellent job for Vero Beach.”

The six candidates are all, well, people, which would seem to be a no-brainer. But wait. There is one more candidate, not a person, but the Vose Law Firm out of Winter Park. In Baenziger’s letter of recommendation he states, “Although beyond the scope of our assignment, we have additionally provided some information concerning the law firm that submitted a proposal.”

So, if the Vose Law Firm is “beyond the scope” of this executive search firm we hired to find a new City Attorney, why are we considering them?

In his defense, Baenziger checked them out by Googling them, talking with the Florida Bar and others, just like you would do if suddenly someone wanted to do business with you and you knew nothing about them. He probably didn’t have time to research the negative story about Vose Law Firm’s founder that made headlines in Deltona when she worked for that city.

Many of you reading this have attended meetings for different City departments, or any public meeting for that matter, and the in-house City Attorney is always present. You or someone you know has probably met with the City Attorney who is always available during business hours, because he works for you, the public, in that capacity. You may have seen him out for dinner or at a charity event, or shopping at Publix (okay, that may be a stretch). The point is, the City Attorney lives in the community he or she serves. That would also be a no-brainer. In fact, if you work or serve in just about any capacity for the City, you must be a resident of the City. Surely any of the candidates Baenziger recommended would move here. Right?

So here we are, about to hire a new City Attorney, who will be integral to all major decisions made by the City, including whether to sell the three most valuable properties the City/public owns to a big developer or keep it in the public trust…wait a minute. If an Orlando-area law firm is hired, not a resident, not an accountable City employee, will that firm work in your best interests?

Think about it as you drive down to City Hall for that one o’clock meeting.

6 comments

  1. Milt, your comment actually made me chuckle a bit: “You may have seen him out for dinner or at a charity event, or shopping at Publix (okay, that may be a stretch).” Because it’s not a “stretch” at all. This recently retired City Attorney was indeed often seen out and chatted with many local citizens at dinner, local events, and yes, even while shopping at Publix! I happen to have a few years personal knowledge of what is involved in operation of the Vero Beach City Attorney’s Office and the level and diversity of services required to be provided for the City organization and help each department successfully accomplish its mission. Living in and being “invested” in the City and community served gives one an overwhelming advantage in knowledge of the organization, the community, the people, the needs to be addressed, and much more. While all attorneys are obligated and expected to consider the client’s needs first, when that client is a municipal corporation, having that special connection to and investment in the community multiplies that allegiance many fold.

  2. Wayne, I actually put in the Publix comment to see if you would react! I also shop at Publix along with all the husbands now tasked with hunting and gathering. I am also featuring your comment. Have a great weekend (and retirement!).

  3. The council, city manager and legal department should work together and, yes, live in Vero beach. Not sure why that was not a specified requirement to start. A local lawyer is so important and a common sense decision to represent all concerned plus to support our charter.

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