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City council terminates contract with city attorney

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 12:38 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 12:39 p.m. CDT

At Monday night’s Newton City Council meeting, councilors voted 5-1 to terminate the employment of long-time city attorney Darrin Hamilton and to contract with a Des Moines law firm for future legal services.

When Mayor Michael Hansen announced the resolution had been adopted, Hamilton walked out of the meeting.

Councilor Dennis Julius was the lone dissenting vote. He pointed out that most cities save money with employment retirement, not termination.  He was also skeptical of the projected savings the city would save from terminating Hamilton’s contract.

City Administrator Robert Knabel said the following about his research:

“Going back to the lateral part of the summer, the city council had discussed the idea of looking at alternative services. We are looking in the areas of efficiencies, cost savings, managing cost, and some of those things were part of those previous reviews, and thus we got into the discussion in the lateral part of the summer.”

On Sept. 7 Knabel gave the council a report informing them about the condition of Hamilton’s contract.

“We figured the average of that being about $157,000,” Knabel said. “The report looked at alternatives, for the city council’s consideration.”

The city staff compared Newton to 10 other communities, which proved that Newton paid more in legal services than others. Council members asked Knabel to investigate further.

He reported back to the council on Oct. 31, and briefed them about specific findings of the city’s legal contract compared to others. Knabel spoke with other cities about outsourcing contracted services. He also verified cost.

After agreeing that alternative options would be sought out, the city placed adds in the local papers and sent out letters to 27 individual firms.

“We sent letters to every firm in the City of Newton indicating that the city was looking to receive letters of interest, and request qualifications for services.” Knabel said.

The city accepted letters of interest until Jan. 4. Out of the 27 letters sent, three responded, none of which were from local law firms. From there, a committee made up of Hansen, Knabel and council members Steve Mullan and Craig Trotter interviewed the three firms. Following a second interview, they selected Brick Gentry P.C. Law Firm, which has performed legal services for at least five cities indicated by reference checks given to the city.

The move will put the city’s legal spending about $39,000 over budget this fiscal year. It is expected to save the city a net of $44,000 over the next two years.

The new firm is expected to call the city Wednesday.

They are also to workout a schedule so they can be present at council meetings at least once a month. Because the new attorney is not based in the city, Knabel recommended that prosecution be called every other week.

Consultation may be a little more difficult Knabel said. The projected time frame is about three hours a week. Items discussed can be anything from resolutions to staff.

Hansen informed the council about his talks with the new firm and said the following:

“We had a pretty good discussion with the individual that would represent us in the prosecution. They don’t go every week and prosecute cases. They have a schedule with the court administrator, and obviously if the council approves this, they want to come and visit with our police department, police chief and have a discussion — as with the court administrator.”

Hamilton will remain a city employee through Feb. 28. he will receive a severance pay package of $71,349.62.

Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at mshepard@newtondailynews.com.

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