I don’t think they heard you

COMMENTARY

MILT THOMAS

Those of you who attended (or watched) last Friday’s special call City Council meeting probably thought the threat of selecting an outside law firm to replace a key Charter position was over. It is not.

Four former City of Vero Beach mayors (one of whom currently sits on Council) were at the meeting to fight against any attempt to replace this important City Attorney position with an outside Orlando law firm. Former Mayor Richard Winger addressed Council on the mayors’ behalf as well as several members of the public. No one in the audience spoke in favor of any outside law firm. In fact, community activist Phyllis Frey presented several reasons why the Vose firm in particular should not be hired.

After hearing from all four candidates hand-picked by the search firm as well as the “mystery” choice, Vose Law Firm, all five City Council members agreed that they would no longer consider an outside firm, but would choose from among the four recommended candidates. That decision is to be made at the next regular City Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow at 5:00 p.m.

So the question is why were they even considering Vose? The executive search firm hired by the City (Colin Baenziger & Associates) was never given the task of finding an outside legal firm to assume responsibility of an in-house Charter Officer City Attorney. But somebody must have recommended Vose?

Executive search firm head, Colin Baenziger.

The answer may lie partly with the City’s Purchasing Department. As Council was considering applicants for the permanent position, purchasing had put out an RFP (request for proposal) to hire an interim legal firm to handle the City’s legal matters during the transition period between the departure of Assistant City Attorney, Kira Honse next week and when the newly hired City Attorney took office. One of the three law firms chosen to compete for that interim position was Vose Law Firm. The fee they proposed was far below the other two candidates (the blended rate for all three candidates was $250 per hour even including Vose’s low bid of $150 per hour).

After Vose was rejected for the Charter officer in-house position, they then lowered their bid for the interim position to under $100 per hour a seemingly impossible rate to sustain an Orlando-based, five person law firm currently serving 11 clients around Central Florida. What could they possibly do for us worthwhile at such a cheap price? And why would they want to even do it if they are so busy and successful otherwise?

Aside from that, why would WE even want to consider what must be the cheapest law firm in Florida to handle our legal matters, even on an interim basis? It reminds me of John Glenn’s greatest concern before hurtling into space that his spaceship was built by the lowest bidder. We are not risking lives with this decision, but we could be risking Vero Beach’s future.

One possible reason is that they may have been promised a much larger opportunity in the future if they are willing to sacrifice their integrity in the short term for that opportunity. So, carrying this speculation a step further, let’s say City Council agrees Tuesday on one of the qualified candidates to fill our in-house City Attorney position. But somehow during the contract negotiating stage, that person is suddenly rejected and the other recommended candidates have moved on. Could this be the opportunity Vose Law Firm is looking for? Or may have been promised?

It is all speculation of course, but hopefully on Tuesday Council will have chosen the best person for this important job and may also decide on one of the other interim law firms beside Vose.

You are encouraged to attend this critical meeting at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday and express your concerns.

2 comments

  1. Cutting corners with cheaper fees is short-sighted and will prove harmful to conducting business in Vero … the council was only too quick to jump at the price of $160 K for fantasy charettes … now, for this important decision bidding is the issue — NOT QUALITY and NOT to PROTECT our CHARTER … someone needs to be fired! .,

  2. HI Milt. You got it all wrong on this one.

    First. How do you view a law firm competing on price as a sign the firm lacks integrity or quality? Florida has over 100,000 lawyers, with thousands being added every year. Most would welcome steady, easy work at $100 an hour.

    Second. The job of City Attorney is, in fact, not difficult. Most any Florida attorney with a bit of relevant experience could handle the job well

    Third. The City is presently seeking a new in-house attorney. At $130,000 a year, plus benefits, we’re looking at around $100 an hour. It think that was what the Vose firm was saying. They will do our work for the same price we pay our in-house person.

    Our City has little idea how to consume legal services, and it’s cost us a comical amount.

    Thanks. Nick.

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