City attorney contract selection process detailed

attorneys Pages 15-22 of Monday’s Northfield City Council meeting and work session packet (PDF) includes details on the process used by the Selection Committee in recent months. See also the Sat. Nfld News: Swanson’s letter to city isn’t swaying mayor’s opinion.

I’ve copy/pasted the text from pages 18-22 here to make it easier to reference for discussion.  I’ve turned off comments here. Continue the discussion on our Sept. blog post, What’s up with the City Attorney selection process? (continued)

 

SELECTION PROCESS:

The Council authorized and approved the initial Request for Proposal and appointed the makeup of the Selection Committee on June 15, 2009. The selection committee included Mayor Rossing, Ms. Deb Little, City Clerk, Mr. Mark Taylor, Police Chief, Mr. Brian O’Connell, Community Development Director, Ms. Kathleen McBride, Finance Director, and Mr. Joel Walinski, City Administrator.

The initial Request for Proposal was posted beginning June 18th , with the deadlines for submittals being July 13, 2009. Special notices were sent out to the nine law firms currently doing business within the City of Northfield. Notices were also sent to all firms that were in the City database of legal firms. Additionally ads were placed in the Northfield News and on the League of Minnesota Cities website.

Scoring of the proposal:

Firms Submitting Proposals:

• Joseph J. Langel and Jay T. Squires, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A.  – Civil
• Christopher M. Hood, Flaherty & Hood, P.A. – Civil
• Maren L. Swanson & Timothy L. Morisette, Lampe Law Group, L.L.P. – Civil/Prosecutorial
• John L. Fossum, Fossum Law Office, LLC – Prosecutorial
• Frederic W. Knaak, Knaak & Kryzer, P.A. – Civil/Prosecutorial

The proposals were scored by individuals on the Selection Committee based on the following criteria:

1. Years of experience in local government civil or prosecutorial law

2. Demonstrated knowledge in areas specified within the submitted proposal:

a. General state and federal laws relating to municipal government
b. Zoning, housing, annexation, subdivision and land use law
c. Economic development activities including development, redevelopment, enforcement, and property/real estate law
d. Legal activity relating to general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, tax increment bonds, tax exempt bonds, and other bonding and financial processes
e. Ordinance and resolution development and interpretation
f. Government Data Practices
g. City Charter and City Code issues
h. Contract law
i. Environmental law
j. Franchise law
k. Municipal leases
l. Eminent Domain
m. Trial activity
n. Criminal Prosecution

3. Resources: Demonstrated availability of additional attorneys, other professional and support staff, other resources

4. Cost of proposal: Hourly and retainer

Criteria were created to assist in the selection process. These criteria were included in the RFP and were approved by the City Council as part of their Council action to approve the entire solicitation process. The RFP notification was sent to every law firm located within the City of Northfield and to numerous other law firms in the area including the metro region. The selection criteria does not provide for a preference or selection being based on a local preference.

The Selection Committee is aware of the desire to retain local legal counsel and agrees with the concept if all other selection criteria are equal. Since there is a clear distinction in firms based on other selection criteria, the local preference concept was not viewed as the deciding factor.

All firms were interviewed except Mr. John L. Fossum, Fossum Law Office, LLC. Mr. Fossum has extensive experience as a public defender and no experience as a prosecutorial attorney. Initial interviews were completed on August 10 and August 12, 2009. Key Criteria identified by selection committee after review of proposals submitted and initial interviews for civil legal services:

The breadth of municipal legal service experience by individual attorney’s or their firms. The top ranked firms had a significant amount of experience and number of years of providing both general and specialized civil legal services to multiple small and mid-size non-metro cities.

• The depth and availability of additional attorneys and professional staff. Both of the top rated firms identified a primary contact with an extensive city government focused background as well as a significant number of attorneys within the firm who could back up and support the primary attorney also with an extensive background in providing both general legal counsel and special counsel to a number of cities throughout the state.

• A history of the legal services provided by the top rated firms and the wide array of civil services provided by their firm for municipal government, allowing one firm to provide the full extent of the Northfield’s civil legal needs. This was seen as a good value for the City in terms of services provided and cost containment.

As a result of initial interviews, the Selection Committee identified two firms that could provide civil legal services to the City and meet the key criteria:

Joseph J. Langel and Jay T. Squires, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A. and Christopher M. Hood, Flaherty & Hood, P.A.

A second interview of the top two firms for civil services was completed on August 31, 2009 and references of both firms were contacted. Although both firms received high marks by all references contacted, Flaherty & Hood, P.A was the committee’s recommendation because of the firm’s work experience with a number of smaller communities and some consideration given on the cost of the proposal presented.

Regarding the firms not selected, the Selection Committee appreciates the time and effort put forth by the firms submitting proposals. The committee also would acknowledge that all firms were considered based on the experience, skills, and personnel. Listed below are the firms and the criteria shortcomings identified by the committee.

Joseph J. Langel and Jay T. Squires, Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A.: this firm is based in St. Paul and provides a significant amount of work to many cities, they are well equipped and staffed to handle many of the Northfield’s civil legal needs. The committee felt that much of the firms work focused on suburban/metro cities and the proposal submitted had hourly costs 25% higher than the recommended firm.

Maren L. Swanson & Timothy L. Morisette, Lampe Law Group, L.L.P.: This firm is based in Northfield and has provided the City with legal services 25 plus years, employs 3 attorneys. The firm stipulated during the interview process that they would only consider a contract for both civil and prosecutorial services. The breadth of the firm’s civil service is primarily limited to servicing Northfield. The number of attorneys employed by the firm limits the depth of service. The limited number of the firm’s attorneys has and will require the City to continue to employ additional attorneys to handle the array of civil legal needs at a significantly higher price.

Frederic W. Knaak, Knaak & Kryzer, P.A.: This firm is located in Vadnais Heights and employees 6 attorneys. The firm had limited experience in providing prosecutorial service. The firm’s focus was on metro suburban cities, which limited the breadth of experience.

John L. Fossum, Fossum Law Office, LLC: This firm is based in Northfield. Mr. Fossum has extensive experience as a public defender and no experience as a prosecutorial attorney.

As noted, another outcome of the interviews was the stipulation placed on the proposal submitted by the Lampe Law Group, L.L.P. During the interview process, the firm stated they would only accept a contract from the City where the firm would be under contract for both civil and prosecutorial services. The selection committee felt more options were needed for the prosecutorial services.

As a possible alternative, a preliminary assessment of hiring a in house City Attorney/Prosecutorial Attorney was considered. The problems identified included finding a seasoned attorney with the breadth of experience in all aspects of civil and prosecutorial legal functions required by the City, providing additional staff support for this position, and employee cost and benefits would exceed the current expenditures of legal services.

Additionally, Rice County was also contacted and asked to provide the costs of providing the City with Prosecutorial Services. The estimated price was $127,000. Because of the amount of prosecuting work required by the City, a full time County Attorney legal associate would be required.

An update of the selection process was provided to the Council on August 31, 2009 and Council authorization for a Prosecutorial Only RFP was approved on September 14, 2009. Posting of the RFP was made on September 15, 2009 with the deadline of September 30, 2009. Notices were sent to all legal firms within the City’s database. Ads were also placed in the Northfield News and on the League of Minnesota Cities website. Two firms submitted proposals for the Prosecutorial Services: Lampe Law Group and Campbell/ Knutson.

Interviews were conducted on October 7, 2009. As a result of the proposal review and interviews, the selection committee identified five key criteria in their decision making:

• Breadth of service experience with other communities, whether by the individual attorney or their firms.
• The depth and availability of additional attorneys and professional staff. The availability of additional staff allows for the ordinance and code updates and enforcement to be viewed as programmatic.
• Availability of attorney to be in contact with local law enforcement and those involved with the judicial system: judges, defendants, victims, and other attorneys.

• Costs.

• The focus of prosecution is considered to be that of the client’s, not the attorney’s. The council directs the focus and emphasis of the firm’s prosecutorial service.

Based on the criteria, the firm of Campbell/Knutson PA with Elliot Knetsch as the primary City Prosecutorial Attorney was rated as the top candidate. The firm has a broader scope of experience with more cities and a greater number of attorneys within the firm focusing on prosecutorial law practice.

Additionally, although not normally a key criteria, in this instance there was a significant cost difference between the two proposals submitted. The Lampe Law Group proposal was 60% higher than the Campbell/Knudsen proposal, $185 per hour vs. $115 per hour. References for Campbell/Knutson P.A. were checked and found to be exceptional from both large and small cities, metro and non-metro.

The field of law as it relates to municipal government is changing, The firms that focus on municipal law are more equipped to provide the value added service to their clients. Good governance requires the City review these service contracts, review the service levels, and position the City to best respond to the changing times. Given the changes on the horizon of the enforcement of ordinances, City operations, and City financing that will effect the City ‘s ability to survive and sustain itself successful, the selection process was timely.

The Selection

Committee does acknowledge the work performed and provided by the Lampe Law Office over the past several decades. It has served the City well.

COUNCIL OPTIONS:

1. Approve the Selection Committee’s recommendation as identified in the Proposed Motions for Considerations as listed above.

2. Reject either Proposed Motion and select an alternative firm or firms from those firms that have submitted proposals and authorize the Mayor and City Administrator to negotiate and develop contracts with identified firms.

3. Reject both Proposed Motions and select an alternative firm or firms from those firms that have submitted proposal and authorize the Mayor and City Administrator to negotiate and develop contracts with identified firms.

4. Reject both Proposed Motions and develop a new selection process for selecting a firm to provide legal services to the city.