By Noelle H. Lowery
The Marco Island City Council may be in the market for new legal services.
After months of concern about the fees and quality of service being provided by GrayRobinson, P.A., city councilors voted 6-1 during a special workshop on Monday, Jan. 5, to open up the competition for city attorney. Councilor Larry Honig voted against the measure.
The purpose of the meeting was two-fold. First, councilors wanted to try to iron out the major issues it has had with principles of GrayRobinson and to see if the working relationship could move forward. Second, councilors also were to consider three new proposals for legal services. One was from GrayRobinson, and the other two proposals were from Lewis, Longman & Walker, P.A., and Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Cole, Bierman & Popok, P.L.
“The purpose of today is to determine our direction,” Council Chairman Larry Sacher told his colleagues and city staff. Sacher, along with Councilor Ken Honecker, has been one of the chief critics of GrayRobinson’s performance and that of its representative to the city, Burt Saunders. Saunders and Derek Rooney were in attendance for GrayRobinson.
Councilor Joe Batte wanted to hear specifics. “I would like to hear what councilors Honecker and Sacher have to say,” he explained. “I’d like to see it banged out with principles who can respond with corrective action that pleases this council and see if we can move on…If no serious corrective action can happen, then I would be amenable to moving on to the new proposals.”
Councilor Honecker obliged Batte’s request as he outlined some specific issues he had with GrayRobinson’s October invoice to the city, as well as requesting a detailed account of what services are included in the firm’s $90,000. Honecker questioned $1,118 in extra charges for phone calls with councilors, which he believes are covered in the retainer. He also stated his surprise that the city spent an additional $51,000 in legal fees with GrayRobinson on police employment issues, and expressed his concern over the fact that Saunders had not provided a City Attorney report to City Council since October.
“How do we know what is going on?” he asked.
Sacher added, “It is no secret I have questioned the competency of the legal services that have been provided to us. They have been somewhere between mediocre and bad.”
While Saunders and Rooney did not agree with some of Honecker’s conclusions about the invoice, Saunders noted that “if we can take a look at specifics, we can take care of them.”
In the end, councilors agreed to hear formal presentations from all three firms and consider if a change in legal services is in the best interest of the city. No date has been set, but City Clerk Laura Litzen is working on a date for the presentations.
One thing is certain, though, said City Manager Roger Hernstadt. The services included in each firm’s retainer proposal need to be clearly identified. According to the current proposals, GrayRobsinson would require a monthly retainer in the amount of $7,500, while Lewis, Longman & Walker’s monthly retainer would be $7,000 and Weiss, Serota, etal’s would be $12,500 monthly. Each firm also specified additional fees for services outside of the stated retainer.
City Councilor Victor Rios agreed that specificity is the key. “We already have lessons learned,” he noted. “Let’s use them.”