Friday, January 4, 2013

Our Attorney Bernie

I tried to find a witty quote about lawyers to start this post about our legal services, but I couldn't.  They're all incredibly depressing and often mean spirited.   You know what would be really awesome?  If governments would make laws sufficiently consistent and plain that lawyers would only be needed in truly exceptional circumstances.  But that's not the case and every routine matter of government and business requires legal support.   

North Bay Village is in the process of deciding whether to keep the current city attorneys or bring in a new firm or rehire a previous attorney.  The process has been going on for quite some time and looks to be finished next week at the Tuesday commission meeting.  

The commission met last night in special session for a presentation by each of the bidding firms.  There were four, well really three, and they each presented on their responses to the  RFQ (request for quote) issued last year.   I was at the meeting and here are my observations.  

The legal services cover three areas.  General government, land use and zoning, and labor.   Two of the responding companies bid as a team to cover all three areas, while the other two were all inclusive.  
First up was Bryant Miller and Olive, who focus exclusively on labor.  They employ Jim Crosland who had been our labor attorney in the past.   David Miller, the partner, presented and laid out their strategy and billing on a retainer to the city.  

David Miller laid out his firm's success in a previous labor dispute that saved NBV up to $500,000 and spoke about the advantages of having a separate firm managing labor law.   

Next was Gray Robinson, a firm with no experience in North Bay Village, but extensive experience in other South Florida municipalities.  They propose to manage all three aspects of the legal services and their presenter clearly demonstrated that they have the staff and experience.   

Then Switkes and Rosen, the firm that was the city attorney before Joe Geller before Weiss Serota.  Switkes is proposing to manage general government and land use, as he used to, yet oddly spoke at great length about his experience in prevailing in labor issues.   He knows the village, knows the history and has a generally good reputation.  

Finally our current law firm, Weiss Serota presented.   They have been with us since 2010.  Weiss Serota brought all three disciplines to present on their current situation and their experience.   

So Tuesday the commission will decide.   I think they did a good job of evaluating the various offers and although it can be tedious, took the right amount of time.  

My opinion - Switkes/Crosland was our attorney for several years and while they did a good job, they had a hand in two of the more difficult lingering issues.  

The first was the Adult Entertainment Ordinance which created a number of lawsuits and required extensive revisions.  This was drawn up by the legal team that Switkes contracted and should have been better.   It was necessary to completely revise it last year and cost us a lot in lawsuits. 

The second was a particular clause negotiated in the police contract that gives the employees the right to an arbitration for any significant discipline.  This has cost us a fair amount over the years and has led to some very poor management decisions in the police department.  

On the other hand, Weiss Serota has been our attorney for three years (more or less) and at last fixed the Adult Zoning Ordinance, so props for that. In fact, the biggest criticism of Weiss Serota is that they cost too much.  That was a fair criticism and one that they addressed in detail during their presentation.   

Nina Boniske spoke at some length about how Weiss Serota moved to a retainer billing last year rather than hourly, about the issues that needed cleaning up and uniquely about Weiss-Serota efforts to help the village change the processes that lead to unnecessary lawsuits.  

There is no serious criticism of the job that Weiss Serota has done for North Bay Village and it's not reasonable to hold them accountable for the legal bills presented by the failed recall effort of Corina Esquijarosa (she was bullied out of office by the same people who now want to fire the attorneys).  In fact, the only reason I can think of to get rid of Weiss Serota is that when the city loses the next poorly executed police personnel action, there will  be a scapegoat.   

Overall, I think we should keep them.  I hope the administration starts paying attention to the advice they provide, and that Weiss Serota follows through on the plan to educate the commission and in particular the police department on how to operate inside the law.  It will be interesting to see what happens next Tuesday.  

Kevin Vericker
January 4, 2013 

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