Like many Oregon cities, the city of Newport has been struggling to keep public services intact while substantially cutting costs. It’s been a tough exercise for top Newport officials who had hoped to cut out a big chunk of those costs in the area of legal services. The city’s last city attorney, Penelope McCarthy, resigned last year giving the council a chance to try something new. They decided that if they don’t need a full time city attorney, then maybe they should just pay for one when they need the help.
The city council went for it. They hired a law firm out of Eugene that specializes in government operations, especially at the local level. It was hoped that by hiring the Speer Hoyt Local Government Group that they could cut city attorney costs and apply the savings to other pressing city issues.
But of late, there has been a growing sense among city councilors that the cost savings have not materialized. In fact, some councilors are concerned that a year end tally may show that the firm cost more than under the city’s former “in house” approach.
The latest to raise the specter that change may be in the wind was City Councilor/Mayor Pro Tem David Allen announcing at Monday night’s city council meeting, that the city’s bill for the single month of May was $16,000. Annualize that out 12 months and you get a number that far exceeds anything that Ms. McCarthy was given as compensation for professional services she gave to the city.
Allen raised the issue again that it’s time for the council to “revisit” the city attorney position in light of what the real-life costs have become with Speer Hoyt. Under the scenario given to the public last year, Speer Hoyt was given a one year contract to create an experience for the city council to gauge their quality of legal services and the cost of them. A note of urgency was noted in Councilor Allen’s voice Monday night reminding the council that when Mayor McConnell is back from his trip and when Councilor Sandra Rumougoux also returns, the council should sit down and perform a meticulous review as to what was asked of the law firm, how long it took to get the product, and how much it cost. Mr. Allen brings no small amount of expertise to the discussion since he, himself, is an attorney.
As a note of comparison, Toledo City Attorney Wes Chadwick attends just about every Toledo City Council meeting. Chadwick is readily accessible and ever-vigilant in providing legal guidance and advice to his council. As a matter of public record Chadwick’s annual fee is far less than what is apparently being paid to Speer Hoyt. To be fair, Newport has had a number of legal challenges over the past year that would likely account for the higher than expected costs for legal services rendered.
Allen has hinted frequently during city council meetings that he would like a full audit on legal charges for the past year with the firm and then have a discussion about that number with his fellow councilors on whether it may be time to re-examine the city’s approach to municipal legal services.