PLEASANT HILL -- The City Council has agreed to retain a law firm to provide legal services while it explores the best way to permanently replace Debra Margolis, who resigned at the end of July.
For the past month, Janet Coleson, an attorney with the San Francisco law firm Richards Watson & Gershon has been acting as the city attorney. The firm negotiated the city's resignation agreement with Margolis.
Pleasant Hill is paying the firm $225 per hour for general services, according to Mary McCarthy, city finance director. For litigation, post-redevelopment, labor and other "special services," the firm charges from $275 to $295 per hour for senior attorneys and $225 to $245 for associates.
A provision added in 1992 to the Pleasant Hill municipal code created the appointed full-time position of city attorney. But city leaders want to know if there might be a more efficient or economical way of securing the wide range of legal services Pleasant Hill needs -- from labor negotiations to municipal law.
Councilmen Jack Weir and Michael Harris, who are exploring options that may include hiring a full- or part-time city attorney or contracting with a law firm, are scheduled to meet with Coleson and City Manager June Catalano next week. Weir also said he has asked residents for their opinions on the matter.
"I want to make sure we have the broadest and most extensive options to consider," he said.
Cities take different
The Sonoma law firm Walters & Pistole bills Martinez by the hour based on the service. Beginning next month, the city will pay $173 per hour for litigation, $86 per hour for paralegal services and $164 per hour for non-litigation. In fiscal year 2011-2012, Martinez paid the firm $168,230.
By comparison, Pleasant Hill paid $281,354 for Margolis' total compensation package in 2011, including a base salary of $203,808, deferred compensation, and pension and medical benefits.
"To me, the question of cost is very important," said Weir, noting that when he ran for office two years ago, he frequently pointed out that the city attorney earned more than state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who makes about $150,000 per year.
"(Cost) is not the only issue, it has to be balanced against the importance of city attorney services," he added.
Weir said he and Harris probably will present a recommendation to the full council in November.
Despite the election, where three seats are on the ballot, including two open seats, Weir said he does not necessarily believe the council should delay a decision until after the new members are seated.
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.