By PETER HUSSMANN
The Newton City Council will discuss recommendations to outsource its city legal services to a Des Moines law firm and terminate the employment contract with its long-time city attorney when it meets in regular session on Monday.
The action items on Monday's agenda follow months of discussion on the possibility of moving to contracted legal services instead of the current use of in-house counsel, a move the council has said is motivated by potential cost savings. Previous information provided by City Administrator Bob Knabel indicated that using in-house counsel was more expensive than contracting for legal services.
In late November, the council agreed to send out requests to both local and regional law firms to determine interest in providing legal services to the city. Twenty-seven notices were sent to area law firms, including seven in Newton, with three Des Moines-area firms responding by the early January deadline.
A committee made up of Mayor Mike Hansen, council members Craig Trotter and Steve Mullan and City Administrator Knabel interviewed the three firms and is recommending to the full council that the Des Moines law firm of Brick Gentry be hired to provide the city's legal services beginning March 1. Matt Brick, one of the firm's partners, will be the primary lawyer working for the city.
A "Letter of Engagement," which the full council will have to approve for the mayor to sign, stipulates that the agreement will run through the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year and to set a retainer for all legal work, excluding such things as labor negotiations and litigation matters of $40,000 per fiscal year and a retainer of $30,000 per fiscal year for all prosecution work. The agreement will be reviewed on a quarterly basis.
Fees for services rendered will be based on the firm's hourly billing rate. In addition to fees, the Brick Gentry firm will be entitled to payment for costs and expenses in performing the services requested, such as travel mileage and long-distance telephone charges. Fees and expenses will be invoiced monthly with "prompt payment" within seven days expected.
Both parties are entitled to withdraw from the agreement. The Brick Gentry firm may do so with 30 days written notice should the city fail to honor the terms of the "engagement letter, the client fails to cooperate or follow our advice on a material matter, or any fact or circumstance that would, in our view, render our continuing representation unlawful or unethical."
Should the council vote to approve the hiring of outsourced legal counsel, it will then act on the termination of Newton City Attorney Darrin Hamilton's employment contract, a move that is being recommended to become effective on Feb. 28.
Under the terms on the employment agreement and severance package, Hamilton is entitled to six months cash payment of his current annual salary of $110,000 (which includes a car allowance), cash payment for unused vacation time and continuation of his health insurance for a six month period. That total amounts to $71,349.62. Of that amount, Hamilton will be paid $68,085.30, minus taxes, on his separation date. The city would cover the $3,200 remaining through insurance pyaments made on his behalf for the six month period.
The resolution terminating Hamilton's employment contract specifically states that it being taken due to the decision to outsource city legal services and in no way reflects upon the counsel he provided the city for the past 14 years.
"The termination of the Employment Agreement with Darrin T. Hamilton is a result of efforts by the city to reduce its costs and is not reflective of the services and legal counsel provided by Darrin T. Hamilton as City Attorney," the resolution states.
Next fiscal year's city legal department budget, which is set to approved at the budget hearing on March 4, is approximately $127,000.