What’s up with the City Attorney selection process?

attorneys On the Agenda for Monday’s Council meeting (pages 18-20 of the packet) is Approve RFP for Prosecuting City Attorney Services. Evidently, the process for selecting civil legal services is proceeding with the four finalists but they’re starting over for criminal prosecutorial services. It’s not really clear why, other than the oblique statement: (continued)

 

As a result of the interview process and discussions with the firms being interviewed, the interview panel believes it is in the best interest of the city to further solicit additional firms for criminal prosecutorial legal services at this time.

The REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS FOR ATTORNEY SERVICES, JUNE 2009 (RFP) was approved by the Northfield City Council in June. On the agenda for the Aug. 31 Council work session: Update on City Attorney selection process.

In the June 26 Friday Memo, Deb Little, City Clerk, wrote:

The schedule for the City Attorney RFP process has been revised due to scheduling conflicts. The revised schedule is as follows:

  • City Council Approval of RFP: June 15, 2009
  • Advertisement of RFP begins: June 18, 2009
  • Deadline for RFP: July 13, 2009 – 4:30 p.m.
  • Review RFP’s: July 20 – 24, 2009
  • Interviews: August 10 – 14, 2009 *
  • Update City Council on process: August 17, 2009 *
  • Consideration of approval of selected firm and award of contract by the City Council: Late August or early September 2009 *
  • New contract begins: January 1, 2010

* Proposed dates subject to change

96 Comments

  1. kiffi summa said:

    There’s a lot that could be said about this given some of the council decisions made, based on attorney advice (Mr. Roder’s separation agreement for starters),
    but if you look at the city council packet information for this item, you’ll see a CHECKLIST which sets out the parameters to shape the search process.

    One that caught my eye was this statement : ” Are there measurable criteria to aid with the decision making and have they been identified?”
    Good question, one that you trust would be answered in the affirmative…

    Well, actually, the box next to that statement has a big capital “N/A” in it…
    generally that means “not applicable”.

    Oh, well … haven’t we come to expect this sort of thing? i.e., NO ‘measurable criteria’.

    September 13, 2009
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    I see that decision-making checklist box on Page 20 of the packet, Kiffi:
    http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/p/Packet145.pdf

    It is odd that that one is marked N/A.

    I’ve also heard some grumbling that the interview panel:

    • Mayor Mary Rossing
    • Joel Walinski, City Administrator
    • Deborah Little, City Clerk

    includes only one elected official and no community members. Contrast that with the search for a new President and CEO for the Hospital. The Search Committee includes the following members:

    John M. Lundblad, Board & Committee Chair

    Dixon Bond, Board & Committee Vice Chair

    James Schlichting, Board Member

    Randy Reister, M.D. & Board Member

    Rodney Christensen, M.D.

    Robert Shepley, M.D.

    Mary Quinn Crow, Administration

    Mary Rossing, Northfield Mayor

    Jim Blaha, Community Action Center

    Karen Gervais, League of Women Voters Member

    September 15, 2009
  3. Tracy Davis said:

    I suppose I should ask some questions over the dinner table. (My husband, Lance, is a partner in the Lampe firm, and although he doesn’t do any of the City work, he would have a fiscal interest in this contract, as would I since I’m married to him.)

    I haven’t talked this whole issue over with Lance or with any of the Council, so I’m not sure what the situation is. My biggest concern at this point would be the increased cost and decreased efficiency in using any out-of-town firm. That would always be relevant to the citizens, but even more so in the current economic situation. Plus, I’m always an advocate of “shopping local” wherever it’s feasible.

    Griff, I think you make a good and valid point about the limited makeup of the interview panel.

    If I find out any more details, I’ll post them here.

    September 15, 2009
  4. kiffi summa said:

    Hey! we could merge two threads: this and the Friday memo with the CCpacket for the 14th CC meeting re: the weirdness (with such an oblique statement) of going out for more RFPs for the criminal prosecution portion of the city’s legal service.

    Of the first 5 candidates for that portion of the job, only four were interviewed… did the selection committee find none of those four adequate? or did the single non-interviewee object in some way to cause a need for more candidates? or a critical change in the RFP?
    Maybe it’s just that whoever wrote the packet memo on the new RFP just wrote a poor explanation?

    Considering the importance of good legal advice to the Council, I’m surprised that no one asked a question about why this second process was needed, since it was not stated that all of the first applicants were in some way not adequate, but I did get the impression that it was a revised RFP.

    I often wonder why the Councilors don’t ask the obvious questions; if councilors are frowned upon (by whom ? ) for asking pertinent questions, that’s BAD.

    September 15, 2009
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Northfield still trolling for counsel.

    The reporter, Jim Hammerand, wrote that the interview panel also includes Police Chief Mark Taylor, Community Development Director Brian O’Connell and Finance Director Kathleen McBride.  Is that true?

    It was refreshing to see Tim Morisette speaking plainly, assuming these quotes are accurate:

    “It might be coming from this last administration and all the headaches, but we cannot control our clients. You can give them advice and they can go out and do stupid stuff. Is that our fault?”

    “They’re wrong if they think they’re going to solve the problem by dumping on Maren.”

    “We can’t even defend ourselves,” Morisette said. “Did I steam somebody or is Maren the fall person? We don’t know.”

    But it’s not clear to me if he’s referring to the city staff or the council or both.

    September 16, 2009
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: I would agree it’s “refreshing” to see some plain speaking, but I wasn’t aware that the more attorneys you hire from a firm the cheaper the rates are, re: Mr. Morisette’s comment about NOT splitting the services, or the 60% of their hourly fee that the city pays is not sufficient.

    That’s rather bizarre … I would think intellectual capital had a fixed price or a fixed value, but wasn’t cheapened , like grocery sales, by two-for one.

    I would also think the council would have had to be given some information about this second round, but then the item was on the Consent Agenda for approval, so unless a councilor pulled it off consent it goes by without the information to the public which might be provided by the council’s discussion.

    September 16, 2009
  7. Bruce Wiskus said:

    Kiffi,
    I think you are misunderstanding the meaning behind Mr. Morisette’s comments on economic feasibility.

    My understanding is that by doing the legal work for the city the two lawyers are taking a 40% discount on his normal hourly rate. Let say between them they currently do 80 billable hours per week. If 16 hours per week is for the city, one day per for city attorney work one day for prosecutor work, they have to do an additional 6.5 hours at normal billing rate to make up the shortfall of there normal hours. So each lawyer does 3 hours or so per week of “make up” work.

    Now if one lawyer does both the city attorney work as well as the prosecutors work they would still do 16 hours per week for the city. However since they are now on there own they would need to do the 6.5 hours on there own. This basically creates an extra day of work per week.

    My guess is that 2 lawyers are not cheaper it is just easier to give the city the 60% rate and make up the billable amounts split between two lawyers.

    September 18, 2009
  8. Bruce Wiskus said:

    Kiffi,
    I think you are misunderstanding the meaning behind Mr. Morisette’s comments on economic feasibility.

    My understanding is that by doing the legal work for the city the two lawyers are taking a 40% discount on his normal hourly rate. Let say between them they currently do 80 billable hours per week. If 16 hours per week is for the city, one day per for city attorney work one day for prosecutor work, they have to do an additional 6.5 hours at normal billing rate to make up the shortfall of there normal hours. So each lawyer does 3 hours or so per week of “make up” work.

    Now if one lawyer does both the city attorney work as well as the prosecutors work they would still do 16 hours per week for the city. However since they are now on there own they would need to do the 6.5 hours on there own. This basically creates an extra day of work per week.

    My guess is that 2 lawyers are not cheaper it is just easier to give the city the 60% rate and make up the billable amounts split between two lawyers.

    September 18, 2009
  9. victor summa said:

    Well the search issue for city attorney services that stared back in June moved closer to a conclusion Monday night (10/12) when City Administrator Walinski delivered his account of the Search Committee’s suggested attorneys to serve the City for the foreseeable future.

    Laying out a process that seemed thorough, flawless and well balanced, Walinski walked the Council through the various iterations of interviews and investigations in announcing the Committee’s choice: I my have the names butchered here … but in the envelope, had there been one, the choice to handle Civi Law – Maren’s Swanson job since 1988, will go to the firm of Flaherty and Hood. Chris Hood will get the lions share of the responsibility, but the firm has adequate backup personnel to handle the job.

    On the criminal side, the nod was given to Elliot Knetsch (SP?) with the Eagan based Cambell Knutson. Incidentally, Flarity and Hood are based in St. Paul.

    The Council will have to approve this recommendation at a future Council meeting. If all goes smoothly, The new firms will pick up the reigns in January.

    Who’d a thunk?

    October 12, 2009
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks for the update, Victor. Wow. No more local law firms involved.

    October 13, 2009
  11. David Ludescher said:

    This sounds like a REALLY bad idea. Doesn’t anyone remember Rate Search and the Crossings? What happened to Shop Local(ly)?

    October 13, 2009
  12. David Ludescher said:

    Mayor Rossing stated in her radio broadcast of 10/13/09 that the screening panel included 5 City employees, Little, McBride, Walinski, O’Connell, and Taylor and the Mayor. The Mayor also indicates that contracts are already being drawn up.

    I would encourage the City Council to reject the “staff” recommendation. A more comprehensive panel would probably see the value from “Shopping Locally”.

    October 13, 2009
  13. victor summa said:

    David L … bad idea or not, evidently the reality is only two local attorney’s (or firms) applied. One, the current duo: Morisette and Swanson – and for what ever reason, evidently they were both seen as not a good fit any longer.

    The search/review committee consisted of Mayor Rossing, Administrator Walinski, City Clerk Deb Little, Finance director,. Kathleen McBride and Police Chief Mark Taylor.

    I’d speculate McBride was most interested in good business advice, Taylor good prosecutorial acumen, while Walinski, Rossing, and Little have little track record in hiring city attorneys. Evidently at least one of the five had enough clout to hustle the others … or, there is a lot of pent up dissatisfaction over at the City Hall with the attorneys of record.

    It would be interesting to have been a fly on the wall where these discussions took place. You might conclude Maren Swanson was rejected early on (don’t know this as fact at all) and then Morisette played his ace card: when the firm said: all or nothing. At least the latter is true. Why would Morisette make such a bold move unless there was little to lose?

    If Swanson was out … then by his own maneuver, Morisette was as well. And, maybe they’re just fed up with Northfield.

    Only one other attorney from Northfield submitted a response to the RFP, and we were told Monday night by Walinski, was rejected, saying, “he had no prosecutorial experience”.

    I haven’t seen his CV.

    So in answer to your question (allegation) why no locals … evidently there were no acceptable applications. Maybe the local attorney’s know too much to want to get involved.

    October 13, 2009
  14. Jane McWilliams said:

    I thought Betsey Buckheit’s comment at Monday’s meeting that city law is a specialty was interesting. David, how difficult is it for a law firm which hasn’t done municipal law before to “tool up?” Is there an advantage for the city to hire a firm which has already done that kind of law previously?

    October 13, 2009
  15. john george said:

    This is just my opinion, but seeing how the city government climate has fared over the last couple years, perhaps it is best we have an outside source for legal affairs. By no means do I infer that local barristers are not qualified, but Victor’s comment, “…And, maybe they’re just fed up with Northfield…” may have more merit than implied humor.

    October 13, 2009
  16. Phil Zrimsek said:

    Interesting that there are 3 doctors on the Hospital CEO selection committee, but no lawyers on the city attorney selection committee.

    Also would point out that if the state used the criteria for selecting judges that the city used for selecting a prosecutor–we would never see a new judge because they would lack prior judicial experience.

    I wonder why a candidate gets tossed for not having prior prosecutorial experience, but candidates with no community experience are good to go. I agree with Ludescher about once a decade–but on this issue, he is spot on.

    October 13, 2009
  17. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: I think the disadvantages to hiring a self-proclaimed specialist far outweigh the advantages. A lawyer’s first job is to understand her client, the client’s concerns, and to counsel the client in the law. This fellow from St. Paul isn’t going to care about his client.

    And to hire a firm in Eagan to do prosecution when we have capable firms in Northfield? Mr. Morisette has more criminal experience than the whole Rice County attorney’s office put together.

    We’ve had the Rate Search and Crossings experiences. We would not have had either of these problems if we had taken our own advice and stayed local. Every local bank or contractor could have done a better job than these “big boys”.

    October 14, 2009
  18. Matt Sewich said:

    Why is The Crossings being dragged into this?

    October 14, 2009
  19. Tracy Davis said:

    I thought Tim Morisette’s response letter was excellent:

    We are frankly saddened to see the committee’s recommendation. . . that these valuable services leave the city of Northfield, with the attendant loss of city revenues and employment opportunities going to out of town firms who have no stake in this community and do not know its residents, do not patronize its businesses, and are ignorant of its rich history. . . the knowledge and expertise of our local professionals, service providers, and retail business people is every bit as competent and reliable as anything offered by large metro concerns – and perhaps more so because our customers and clients are also our friends and neighbors.

    We believe there is no substitute for the daily personal interaction, attention and service that we have done our best to provide to city officials and staff, police officers, court personnel, local attorneys, business people, and the innumerable citizens in our town who have benefited from our services over the years. That daily interaction and accessibility is simply not going to occur with the two firms proposed by the committee.

    I stopped by the Lampe Law office earlier today to drop something off for Lance, and I chatted with Tim for a few minutes. He said that Joel W. told Maren a few weeks ago that part of the objection to Tim continuing to do the criminal prosecutions for the City is that Tim “didn’t take directives from City staff”.

    !!

    Maybe that sheds another beam of light on this. At least I find it extremely interesting.

    October 14, 2009
  20. Randy Jennings said:

    Tracy,

    Doesn’t the string of “you said that Tim said that Maren said that Joel said…” give you even a moment’s pause before you put quotation marks around something that is, at best, a third-hand report? I know blogs are not bound by the rules of journalism or courts of law, but isn’t that what an attorney might call inadmissible hearsay? I’m not sure what light you think that sheds.

    October 14, 2009
  21. Tracy Davis said:

    It’s definitely third-hand. But considering the sources, I trust that both Maren and Tim relayed the statement with a fair degree of accuracy.

    However, I agree that I shouldn’t have put it in quotation marks. I was just trying to clean up a messy paragraph with punctuation, but definitely not to journalistic standards.

    That’s why we should leave journalism to journalists, and selection of legal services to people who actually know what’s involved. 🙂

    October 14, 2009
  22. john george said:

    Tracy- Does that mean blogs are free domain?

    October 14, 2009
  23. David Ludescher said:

    The City is being pretty tight-lipped about how the decision was made. Of course, the decision is not really made because with a professional services contract, the City does not have to accept the lowest bid.

    It appears that the winning firms were pre-destined. Hopefully, the Council will give the matter the thorough look it deserves.

    October 16, 2009
  24. Britt Ackerman and a sainted relative of mine discussed the council’s recommendation for city attorneys on “The Law Review” this week. You can find it on the kymnradio.net website.

    October 16, 2009
  25. David Ludescher said:

    At the Chamber forum, the councilors continued to be tight-lipped about the reasons for wanting a change, and the costs for the proposed attorneys.

    Let’s hope that the information comes to light before, not after, the City Council vote.

    A Google search for the proposed civil attorneys reveal that they only represent two cities – Park Rapids and Sartell, and their primary area of expertise is lobbying.

    October 21, 2009
  26. David Ludescher said:

    One item for possible discussion: Several Council members at the Chamber forum indicated that they DIDN’T think that it was appropriate to give consideration to local businesses just because they are local.

    When the City is considering doing business (spending money) to what extent should whether or not the business is local figure into the decision making process?

    October 23, 2009
  27. kiffi summa said:

    In today’s paper, the Mayor is quoted, from the Chamber forum, as saying that the dropping of the Lampe law firm “in no way a reflection of past services”…

    Well then, what was the reason?

    It seems the main evaluations would be quality of service, and cost, with a big dollop of convenience/ proximity.

    If it was not the quality of service, obviously not the lack of convenient proximity, then it must have been cost… why not just say it?
    Every other decision in this tight budget year is being evaluated as to cost.
    (Well, not the Safety Center…)

    From the Council that campaigned on transparency, too little explanation on what has become a prominent issue.

    October 24, 2009
  28. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi: I think that we need to remember that the committee was just the Mayor and staff.

    There is substantial merit to the City Council revealing the details of the bids before they vote. I think a lot of people are skeptical about political motivations, costs, and the move out of town.

    These service contracts are not like other Request for Proposals. My understanding is that the the City can reject all bids, negotiate the bids that they currently have, or relet for bids again. I also understand that the City does not have to keep the bids secret. In fact, if the City wants to negotiate on price and service, it would seem prudent to keep at least 2 firms in the running so that they can compete against each other.

    Nominating one firm as the favorite and then trying to negotiate on a lower price or service doesn’t make any sense.

    October 24, 2009
  29. kiffi summa said:

    Good points, David… We’ll have to see how the entire Council handles this. I guess I am just expecting (having been ‘trained’ by the general dynamic this year) that there will be little objection to the staff/mayor committee selection.

    The difference in this type of RFP is good to remember , also.

    What’s your opinion of why more local attorneys didn’t apply?

    October 24, 2009
  30. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News editorial: Attorney debate comes down to logic and emotion.

    Logically, it may seem right to go with the cheapest firm or the most “experienced” one. But emotionally, is it right to throw away a long-term relationship without a more detailed explanation? Before the council makes a vote on this issue, it needs to have the answers to those questions, and be prepared to share them with the public.

    October 28, 2009
  31. john george said:

    Sounds a little like John Glenn’s comment from one of the early NASA news conferences:

    I recall a lecture by John Glenn, the first American to go into orbit. When asked what went through his mind while he was crouched in the rocket nose-cone, awaiting blast-off, he replied: “I was thinking that the rocket had 20,000 components, and each was made by the lowest bidder.”

    October 28, 2009
  32. No holds barred discussion on this on “The Law Review” now available at kymnradio.net

    October 28, 2009
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    Nfld News posted this aft: Attorney wants to remain with city

    Maren Swanson says her initial motivation in writing to the mayor and City Council was to encourage the city to retain her partner, longtime city prosecutor Tim Morisette.

    But as she began writing, Swanson, who has served as city attorney for two decades, decided to also make a case for keeping herself on. In the Oct. 21 letter, Swanson says that the city has been “extremely well-served by having Tim Morisette as its prosecutor,” and enumerates a list of reasons for that belief.

    October 29, 2009
  34. kiffi summa said:

    I hope the rest of the Councilors will be as thorough as C. Buckheit has been (see her blog) in explaining their reasons for their vote on the City Attorney process.

    The Mayor’s statement at the Chamber forum, that it had nothing to do with past quality of service, was not an adequate explanation given the cost comparisons; especially relative to costs in Ms. Swanson’s letter to the council which the NFNews linked to on their website.

    There were certainly some very good reasons for keeping  Mr. Morisette given at a recent council meeting’s open mic statements by Greg Colby, a public defender, and the director of the Hope Center in Faribault(sorry, don’t have that name). It seems the persons most in need of proximity to legal relationships often have the hardest time getting there, i.e. no car, time off of work , etc., so the arguments for keeping those services in NF rang true to me.

    October 31, 2009
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    As you can see from the trackback above, I’ve got a new blog post up that excerpts from the Council packet for tomorrow’s City Council decision on the city attorney contract. I link to yesterday’s Nfld News story, too.

    Rossing said it isn’t about issues, old or new. The reasons are documented in information sent Thursday to the council, and include lower costs, the large number of attorneys at the recommended firms and the breadth of skill sets available at those firms. Lampe Law Group has three attorneys in its firm.

    November 1, 2009
  36. Griff Wigley said:

    I think much of the negative reaction in the community could have been avoided if:

    1. The selection committee had included others from the community, not just Mayor Rossing and 5 city staff members.

    2. The selection committee had been more transparent from the beginning about the selection process. I complained about it 6 weeks ago  (see blog post above) and it had been going on a long time already. We finally have some very helpful details on the process, but it’s a mere 3 days before a Council vote.

    This would have been the perfect issue for the Council to deliver on its #1 Goal for the year: Council will implement effective methods of communication with citizen advisory groups and community, and its #1 Action Step for that Goal: The Council will establish an effective two way communication process for the community.

    November 1, 2009
  37. Rob Hardy said:

    I unsarcastically agree with you, Griff, that so much ill-will and misunderstanding could be avoided through proper communication.  When will people learn?

    I think that some good arguments have been made for the selection of the recommended firms.  But a larger issue still concerns me.  Many members of the city staff don’t even live in Northfield.  I’m bothered by the appearance that the operations of the City of Northfield, and important decisions that affect Northfield citizens, are being outsourced to staff members who don’t even live in town.  Now the City wants to hire out-of-town attorneys.  To me it seems like part of a pattern of putting Northfield into the hands of people who only know the city professionally, and don’t have a personal stake in it.  Perhaps that gives these people a measure of objectivity, but I think it also undermines a sense of community.

    November 1, 2009
  38. kiffi summa said:

    Griff: It is good to point put the Council’s #1 goal. (above, #34) It has not been realized; and it’s maybe the simplest of all their goals.

    Rob is right …Why is it so difficult., once a person is elected to office, to see that their responsibility is to the citizens, not the Staff?

    What  is the dynamic that makes them feel they are betraying the Staff if they disagree with them?

    Who is the employer and who is the employee?

    I think it is a disservice to a professional staff to think that they are such weak incompetents that every staff decision must be protected, rather than just not being a differing opinion or just not the decision the employer wants.

    I understand that Staff has called councilors ” to task” about questioning staff in meetings. Again, who is the employer and who is the employee?

    Tracy wrote on this thread (#18) that The City Administrator told the City Attorney that Mr. Morrisette did not take direction well enough  from Staff. I sincerely hope Mr. Morisette was his own professional man, and did NOT take direction from staff.

    Things are just plain “out of whack”; as Rob’t Burns said, the plans of mice and men “gang oft agley”.

    Maybe they are just all confused about the community dynamics , since the former administrator and some council members got off pretty easily when they attacked a commission chair, after she had left, and at the end of the meeting when she could not have responded had she been there.  There was little outcry against that citizen bashing then … and there has been none when it happens with this council.

    Communications should not be so difficult, but when you let every little negative thing go by as if it did not matter, or because you find it embarrassing to correct at the moment,or worse yet… because you think you are in a power position and need not address the problem … those little issues tend to ball up into something big.

     

    November 1, 2009
  39. john george said:

    This is just  a philosophical question, but are we seeing a trend in our city government that has been overtaking the whole country over the last few decades? The trend I am talking about is the reliance upon “specialists.” In the medical field, we used to go to our family doctor for whatever ailed us. The profession has become so complicated now, that if we doctors specializing in skin ailments, internal medicine, neurology, cardiology, etc. The same can be said for the building industry, auto mechanics, even retailers. Now, we are discussing the merits of a city staff and how they are involved in carrying out the governance of the city. Some people feel that unless a staff can be micro-managed, they cannot function sufficiently. Others feel that the staff was hired  so they wouldn’t have to be involved in the day to day operations. My opinion is that somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the correct way. Perhaps, because of this general shift in thinking in our society, the council and staff believe they are only carrying out the duties with which they have been charged.

    I agree with Griff, Kiffi, Rob and others in their opinion that more communication would have allayed some fears and hard feelings. I also wonder just what percentage of the population of Northfield even cares about whom is hired for the city attorney and what process this hiring follows. I suspect this census could pretty much be taken from those participating in this blog.

    November 1, 2009
  40. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Speaking of communication, I was told by a Council member last Thursday that  members have agreed not to talk with each other concerning attorney selection before the vote Monday night.  All discussion is to be at the Council meeting. Seems to suggest there is a lot of angst out there.

    November 1, 2009
  41. David Ludescher said:

    John:  Good points.  I would have thought that the Rate Search and Crossing fiascos would have taught the City Council the value of staying close to home.

    Do Chris Hood or Elliot Knetsch care about Northfield?  Are you going to see them donating time to the Lions, Sertoma, or the Rotary?  Are they going to be donating to the Arts Guild or the Historical Society?

    Citizens and the councilors should care about shipping services out of town.  We’ve had bad experiences in the financial and construction sectors, and now we are going to repeat it in the legal services.  One of the Chamber’s messages at the forum was that we have competent, capable people in all of these businesses,and it reflects poorly on everyone else in town in that industry when the City goes outside of town.

     

    November 2, 2009
  42. kiffi summa said:

    David;   what the heck do you mean by referring to the Rate Search and Crossings fiascos as examples of  the value of staying close to home?

    Both of those  examples occurred under the umbrella of the current City Attorney! You’re just not making any sense!  (IMO)

    That said, let me clearly state that I would NEVER cast blame on Ms. Swanson for either of those “fiascos”; both clearly beyond any influence of her …

    The Rate Search  fiasco was the result of an unpredictable crime of embezzlement, and the failure of the Crossing project was replicated thousands of times across the country, as the processes of the banking industry failed.

    November 2, 2009
  43. Griff Wigley said:

    I think it’s worth noting that our mayor, 3 other councilors, our city administrator, and our police chief are all new to their jobs, ie, they’ve never had these positions before.

    Which is not a reason to not criticize, of course, but just to keep it in context.

    November 2, 2009
  44. David Ludescher said:

    Kiffi:  If we had used local banks and local contractors, we wouldn’t have had either problem.  

    November 2, 2009
  45. Matt Sewich said:

    David,

    I don’t get what you mean when you call the Crossing some kind of fiasco that wouldn’t have happened if the City got together with a local contractor instead.

    Did we have a local contractor that wanted to do the Condo buildings and had similar experience in doing them as Mendota Homes?

    It seems to me the only thing that could have “saved” The Crossing was a healthy housing market, but the market tanked and yet this is the second time I have seen you take a shot at it in the name of “not being local”…I don’t get it, please explain.

    November 2, 2009
  46. David Ludescher said:

    Matt:  There were local contractors interested in a project down there.  But, Mendota Homes sold us on the idea of a beautiful mixed-use development that fit into some people’s dreams of what Northfield should look like.  Mendota even got tax-increment financing.  It was impractical even in a good market. 

    Now we have a piece of property that no one takes care of.  It doesn’t have a small-town feel, and I would guess it is still receiving the very favorable tax structure.  

    As I recall, the locals had more modest and realistic plans.   

    November 2, 2009
  47. Jane McWilliams said:

    At tonight’s council meeting, following about an hour and a half discussion, the council, on a divided vote, authorized Mayor Rossing, City Administrator Walinski and Councilor Vohs to negotiate contracts with the two recommended firms (Flaherty & Hood and Campbell Kutson) for the city’s legal services.

    November 3, 2009
  48. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m told via email that the resolution to accept the committee’s recommendation for new attorneys passed 4-3 tonight.

    In favor: Buckheit, Pownell, Rossing, Zweifel.

    Dissenting: Denison, Vohs and Pokorney.

    November 3, 2009
  49. David Ludescher said:

    Interesting:  All the rookie councilors voted in favor, all the veterans voted against.

    November 3, 2009
  50. Matt Sewich said:

    David,

    I hadn’t heard of any local contracting companies looking to make the investment that Mendota Homes did to get that project off the ground.  I thought it was a good idea given what had been occupying the space for so many years and Mendota had done several similar projects to this one with pretty good success.

    We’ll have to disagree on this and that’s fine, it was a big project to take on and at the time it looked like a great idea to “expand” downtown, but it didn’t completely fly for a variety of reasons and I hope when the market swings back that the pieces can be picked up and we see the development of that area pick back up.

    November 3, 2009
  51. Jim Haas said:

    I know I’m late to this party, but I think there may be compelling reasons to have legal representation from someone who isn’t local.  I’d argue that attorneys who have no personal or political ties may be in a better position to give unbiased, unvarnished, straightforward advice.  Local attorneys my feel the such a strong need to get along with everybody that they’ll compromise their standards.  I am not saying that this has been true, but it’s worth considering. 

    November 3, 2009
  52. David Ludescher said:

    Jim:  No one has suggested that the Council was getting bad counsel or that the lawyers were compromising their values. 

    November 3, 2009
  53. Patrick Enders said:

    I’m not entirely clear on the role of the city attorneys.  Are the city attorneys responsible for providing the Council with legal advice on the drafting of city ordinances, such as the rental code?

    Also, are the city attorneys responsible for providing advice on the structuring of legal settlements, such as the agreement with Al Roder?

    November 3, 2009
  54. john george said:

    Jim- I think you have a good point, there. It seems that in so many small city government decisions made, no matter what the community, there is the fear of accusation of cronyism. Just look at the accusations around the video recording work done at city hall. It seems that if there is any relationship between city officials and contractors, then any contracts granted are suspect. This is really hard to get away from in a smaller town like Northfield where everyone knows of or has had work done by many of the bidders. 

    November 3, 2009
  55. kiffi summa said:

    Patrick:   The city attorney is actually in the employ of the council, to do just what you describe … general legal advice, ordinance issues, and sometimes even as a parlimentarian.

    When there is a specific issue which Ms. Swanson felt needed a particular expertise, outside help was sought. In the instance you refer to, “the structuring of a legal settlement … agreement with Al Roder,Ms Swanson brought in Roger Knutson of the Campbell-Knutson firm. He provided the legal advice to the council on that settlement agreement… ‘old news’, but urged, repeatedly urged the council to enter into a ‘pay-off’ agreement with Mr. Roder, as “insurance” (Mr, Knutson’s word) against being sued by Mr. Roder.

    Many people thought this was bad advice, when combined with the payment of Mr. Roder’s legal fees, because it provided what some called an ‘open checkbook’, and the threat of a successful suit by Mr. Roder against the city was  thought to be minimal, i.e. the advice  was not necessarily in the client’s  ( Council) best interests.

    Who knows … It’s not over.

    November 3, 2009
  56. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks Kiffi.  Do you know who advised the Council on the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of the various parts of the Rental Ordinance?

    November 3, 2009
  57. David Ludescher said:

    Patrick:  As I recall, the City Attorney advised the Council of the possibility that what they wanted drafted might be unconstitutional.  I recall that she was told to do it anyhow.

     

    November 3, 2009
  58. Jane McWilliams said:

    The RFP the council approved last June 15 may be helpful for your question in 42, Patrick.( http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/a/approve-rfp-for-city-attorney-services-motion-attachment.pdf) That evening they also approved, without dissent, the committee members at that meeting.

    None of the council members brought up the preference for local candidates at that time, although last night this was an important criteria for several members. Nor did any council members request changes in the composition of the committee. although again,  last night, some councilors seemed to have felt left out of the process.

    There were no citizens on hand in June to comment on the RFP or the committee.

    Listening to the discussion and reading the RFP leads me to understand why the 4 “rookies” voted to support the committee’s recommendation in spite of the obvious opposition of many influential Northfielders.

     

     

    November 3, 2009
  59. David Ludescher said:

    Jane:  Help me understand.  There was absolutely no public support for what the rookies did.

    November 3, 2009
  60. Jane McWilliams said:

    How do  you know there was no public support for what they did, David? There certainly wasn’t any in the chamber last night, admittedly, but can we assume that group represents the views of the rest of the public?

    My point was that the people voting yes apparently thought the committee had played by the rules set by the council. Rhonda Pownell seemed to say so. She acknowledged that there was a lot opposition out there, but then said that the committee had done its homework before voting to support it.

     

     

    November 3, 2009
  61. Randy Jennings said:

    David,

    You can certainly complain ’til the (dis)contented cows come home about decisions you don’t like, but please spare us the generalizations that there was “absolutely no public support” for the council’s actions. I, for one, feel that my council representative did what I hope she would do when I voted for her: make thoughtful, informed decisions that she feels are in the best interests of the city.

    It would be nice if you would stop using the pejorative (as you use it) term “rookies” to describe four sitting council members. I think if they’ve demonstrated anything this past year, it is that they are smart, hard-working and deserving of more respect.

    November 3, 2009
  62. Randy Jennings said:

    Don’t know why all of the formatting data appeared at the top of the previous comment (47.1). It didn’t show in the comment box. Sorry about that…

    November 3, 2009
  63. john george said:

    Randy- It probably has something to do with artificial intelligence, or perhaps the curvature of the earth. Now, if it had been my  comment, it would definitely been PEBKAC.

    November 3, 2009
  64. Griff Wigley said:

    I removed it, Randy.

    With the new editing feature that we installed for comments, if you copy/paste from Microsoft Word, it’ll include some of the hidden formatting from Word.  Just paste it into the HTML view next time.

    November 4, 2009
  65. Griff Wigley said:

    Today’s Nfld News: Council OKs new attorneys.

    The City Council twice voted 4-3 to approve the new contracts, with nay votes cast by Councilors Jon Denison, Kris Vohs and Jim Pokorney.

    Those councilors said they had problems with the transparency of the selection process and recommendation forwarded by the interview panel, which consisted of Rossing, Walinski and city department heads.

    November 4, 2009
  66. David Ludescher said:

    Randy and Jane:  Idon’t think that it bodes well for the future to see our four inexperienced coucilors not listening to the three experienced councilors and the vocal opposition to the committee’s recommendations.

    November 4, 2009
  67. kiffi summa said:

    David : there was a lot of public support for what the 4 new councilors did… remember YOU are the one who cautioned to NOT listen only to the people who appear at open mic; you have repeatedly said here and at the armory, and at meetings, that those people  (at open mic)always speak and the larger public needs to be listened to.

    Most of the people who spoke Monday night were not what some might refer to as the “usual suspects”; additionally there are many people who have been calling their councilors and telling them not to go with the  remainders (councilors) from the previous council who presided over such “chaos”, and did so with what has been called  an ‘open checkbook’ in hand for the former administrator.

    What is really strange to me is the picking of the “open checkbook” firm; after all Roger Knutson,  was the advisor and negotiator on the settlement agreement with the former administrator, and that does not appear to have been good advice for  the taxpayers.

    So in my POV, it was very much a mixed bag, with a lot of mixed messages, i.e. “not based on dissatisfaction with previous services” or whatever that specific quote was …

    I am also amazed at Councilor Pownell’s  amazement; she is everywhere, constantly working people… certainly she heard some of the myriad comments out there. Did she just not ‘hear’ them?

    I think in the interest of social justice in the courts, Morrisette should have been retained. I think the general cultural difficulty NF exhibits in dealing with any kind of  ’embarassment’ did not allow that contract to be separated, even if it was offered later in the game. The losers on that one are the people who have already ‘lost’ something.

     

    November 4, 2009
  68. Tracy Davis said:

    I appreciate the desire of this council to bring some order and consistent methodology to the workings of city government. It’s easy to take potshots after the work is done, and I’m sympathetic to Mayor Rossing and the others on the committee who were authorized by the council to proceed, kept the council apprised along the way, then felt ambushed by public sentiment once the recommendation was made. I also understand the desire of some of the council members to support the result of a process which they authorized.

    However, after it became evident that there was strong public opinion about keeping the city’s legal services local, the council as our elected representatives should have considered that as new information that should be taken into account. That’s not bowing to political pressure; that’s their responsibility as elected officials in a representative democracy. “Sticking to their guns” doesn’t necessarily show strength, and rationalizing a decision on the grounds that “we followed the process” doesn’t mean the process followed was a good one. I would hope that the Council is able to learn on their feet and make process adjustments as necessary from this point forward.

    For example, it would have been prudent and helpful to have at least one person on the selection committee who understands the ins and outs of the work of the city attorneys. Having the selection committee made up exclusively of City staff (all of whom report to the city administrator) and only one elected representative (the mayor) was in retrospect not optimal. Just because the individuals involved have the closest contact with the city attorneys doesn’t mean they understand what criteria should be used in hiring one, or how that criteria should be weighted. That’s like saying that because I eat, I would know how to run a good restaurant. There should have been at least one practicing attorney on the selection committee.

    Yes, objections to the makeup of this committee should have been made earlier. Hindsight is 20/20; it’s easy now to see the shortcomings of the selection committee makeup. However, it was not easy to see where along the way any input might have been given, and to whom. Let’s learn from this and correct it next time.

    My biggest and most lasting concern is that the Council revise the way that selection criteria for professional services are weighted. In the case of some professional services, there is clear practical benefit to remaining local. The selection of the city attorneys, especially for prosecutorial services, is such a case. Whoever developed the scoresheet used by the selection committee did not have sufficient understanding of the importance of a local presence on a practical level.

    In addition, relying solely on the written proposals when evaluating the firms ignores a large and significant bit of information –that the services and capabilities of the Lampe firm have been clearly demonstrated for more than two decades. We know what we’re getting and what the actual costs are likely to be. There would not be unanswered questions about who would actually be showing up in court or being charged for mileage and/or driving time from the metro area. We would not be buying a pig in a poke. The certainty of that information should also have been factored into the scoring, and it clearly was not.

    I don’t want to stir up mud. What’s done is done, and the Lampe Law Group will go on providing excellent legal services to the community. I just hope that the council reexamines this process and improves on it for next time, because the process that was followed was not adequate to the task.

     

    November 4, 2009
  69. Tracy Davis said:

    Oops…forgot to add my disclaimer, for those of you who may not know: My husband is a partner in the Lampe firm, so technically and ethically I have an “interest” in their contract with the City.

    However, I also have to say that personally and financially this decision may actually benefit me, since it means that Lance can now take on many clients he’s had to turn away due to his partnership in the City Attorney’s office.

    November 4, 2009
  70. kiffi summa said:

    Tracy : you bring up an excellent point in identifying the possible flaws in the structure of the score sheet.

    The last time this contract was up for bid, two local attorneys who applied said that it was useless because of the “weighting'” of the score sheet, which could only favor the existing firm because of the number  of points assigned to relevant (defined as NF) experience.

    November 4, 2009
  71. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy:  Well said.  A lot of us were not only surprised with the recommendation of the Committee, but also surprised that the Council members were so adament in their defense of the process in spite of its shortcomings.  The lack of community input, the staff-dominated committee, and the big question of local versus out-of-town should have been a cause for pause.  

    November 4, 2009
  72. Kathie Galotti said:

    Tracy,

    I only know about this issue from what I’ve read in the NNews and here, but I find your post articulate and very fair.  I think the flaws in the process seem to mirror ones this town has in handling a lot of controversial issues–there’s the idea that if people speak out strongly to raise objections, somehow they are anti-government or anti-change or something.  And then the critics are marginalized and those in power attempt to squelch and demean them.  Very sad.

    I’m buoyed a bit by your comments that the 2 local attorneys will go on to lead productive and possibly even more lucrative legal lives.  I share your hope that “the process” gets critically examined for the next time.

    November 4, 2009
  73. David Ludescher said:

    Kathie:  The process of getting a new City Attorney is not over.  The contracts are going out for negotiation at this time.  The City Council can still reject all of the contracts if they don’t meet the intended standards of cost, access, etc. that one expects from professional services.  

    For example, will Northfield be getting Chris Hood and Elliot Knetsch every time, or will they be sending down their rookies to handle our affairs?  Will these folks be keeping regular office hours in Northfield and have the same availability that Lampe had?  I am hoping that the negotiating committee makes it clear that we expect them to be in court or at the City Council, and that we expect them to be available in person like Maren and Tim are.  

    I think it is also critical that the City examine the local versus out-of-town issue.  I’m watching the new bike trail being built.  There is Swanson and Morisette tax money being spent there.  There won’t be any Hood or Knetsch money there – ever. 

    November 5, 2009
  74. Randy Jennings said:

    David, Tracy and Kathie,

    Setting aside for a moment the merits of this particular decision, it seems to me that the underlying issue is that we’re seeing a different way of conducting city business. As Jane noted above, back in the summer, this council established the RFP, laid out a process for reviewing proposals, named members to the review committee, all without any comment or protest from the now-dissenting council members or the public. Four months later, we get a recommendation, a vote, and a backlash of criticism about the process.

    You really can’t have it both ways. The “old Northfield” way of doing business was to ignore process and pay attention only to the actual vote at the council. That seems to characterize the complaints about this particular decision. My optimism about this new council, and this new way of doing business is that it establishes a much clearer decision-making process. By the time something gets to the point of a vote, the issues have been clarified, analyzed and the solutions have become clear(er). Down this path lies the transparency many commentators on this forum want. But it may take a while for city-watchers to realize that the points of greatest leverage may at the beginning of a process, and during it, not at the end.

    On the merits of the city attorney decision I have one observation: over the past three or four years, the current city attorney hasn’t been very effective in keeping the city from causing some of its own troubles. Pick your issue: liquor store, personnel, rental code, etc. This doesn’t mean Ms. Swanson isn’t a good lawyer or didn’t try to help the city navigate difficult issues more effectively, but sometimes clients just stop listening to their advisors. When that’s the case, you need a new voice. I’d argue that’s where we are.

    The puzzle in this is why there apparently weren’t other local attorneys  bidding on the work. David, you are a strong advocate for hiring local. Why didn’t you bid for the job? Is the city such an undesirable client? or was there a tacit agreement among Northfield’s attorneys that the city’s business “belonged” to the  Lampe firm? If the latter, that strikes me as an “old Northfield” sort of thing… a bad habit we’re better off breaking.

    November 5, 2009
  75. john george said:

    Randy- Very good points you raise, here. I would add this observation to your comment-

    “but sometimes clients just stop listening to their advisors. When that’s the case, you need a new voice.”

    Sometimes the problem is not with the voice but with the ears that are supposed to be listening.

    November 5, 2009
  76. David Ludescher said:

    Randy:  You raise some good points.  But, the real question is whether the criticism is justified.  I think the criticism is more than justified.  From what I have heard from the Chamber, the legal community, and those who worked with the City Attornies, the overwhelming majority are not convinced that the Committee wanted the best attornies at the lowest prices.     

    So what if the process was set up and the committee (the Mayor and the staff) made a recommendation?  The next step is for the Council to analyze the decision, the reasons for the decision, and to decide if the advice is prudent.

    St. Olaf President Anderson commented about the “new” attitude at City Council.  He mentioned that he met with City officials one day last summer about working together.  The next day, in the paper, he saw that the City was proposing a streetlight assessment that would cost St. Olaf more than $20,000.  Why, he asked, didn’t City officials even mention it at their meeting?  Why didn’t they invite his comment?  Why weren’t they candid with him?  How was he supposed to trust them after that?

    It’s not as if there isn’t time to fix the flaws with this process.  There is no urgency to getting new City Attorneys, especially if it is true that the Committee has no complaints with the present attorneys.  If that is true, then the issue is all about price.  And, I am convinced that if the City even attempted to negotiate with Lampe’s office on price that they could have got a better deal.  But, they didn’t even attempt to negotiate.  

    In retrospect, it certainly appears that it was a stacked committee looking for a predestined result.  It it wasn’t – fine.  But, why didn’t they try to negotiate on price with Lampe?  What consideration, if any, did they give to having a local and available attorney?  What consideration did they give to having someone with institutional knowledge?  What consideration was given to the fact that Maren was City Attorney with all the prior difficulties?  What consideration was given to the fact that Hood is primarily a lobbyist?  Why was all this information kept semi-secret until the Council vote?

        

    November 5, 2009
  77. Randy Jennings said:

    So, David, why didn’t you put in a bid for the city legal work?

    November 5, 2009
  78. David Ludescher said:

    Randy:  There was no indication that the City was dissatisfied with the legal services either on price or service.  We had put in bids before and never got a serious look. 

    Given how the other local attorney was treated, I doubt that we would have received a serious look this time either.  At least on the civil side, it looks like the result of the Committee was pre-determined in spite of the claims to the contrary.  In fact, I understood that one outside firm actually recommended that the City keep Swanson. 

    November 5, 2009
  79. Kathie Galotti said:

    Hi Randy,

    Ok, first of all, I have no investment either way in the decision.  Don’t know Maren or Tim, have no way to assess their performance.  In hindsight, it seems a stupid move for them to bid only as a team–they in effect said “take us both or leave us” and the city council made the apparently unexpected move of leaving them.

     

    Second, I read Betsey’s comments about why she voted as she did and found those comments articulate, thoughtful, and well justified.

     

    My only problem is this:  Community members raised what I think ARE legitimate points that don’t seem to have been previously considered.  To wit:  when we factor in transportation costs, are the out-of-town firms really cheaper?  How much business will have to be delayed or handled differently because the lawyers won’t be easily accessible to lots of townspeople?

     

    The reaction to those legit questions is to point fingers at the law firm and accuse them of formenting dissent.  With the implication that the dissent is illegitimate, unfair, small-minded etc.  THAT’s what I’m having the problem with.  Some of the criticisms made seem to me ones that simply weren’t thought of–that happens when you start a new process.  ALL I’m asking for is that, during some sort of post-decision debriefing, someone think about HOW such factors COULD have been brought into the decision-making process.

     

    And, I guess I would hope that those who support the change in law firms (and I may well be one of them, if I thought hard enough about the issue) realize that others can disagree and still be regarded as good people who also care about the community and how it functions.

     

    That’s it.

    November 5, 2009
  80. David Ludescher said:

    Kathie:  It is not “post-decision” yet.  If the contract negotiations fail, it will be back to the drawing board.

     

    November 6, 2009
  81. Kathie Galotti said:

    David:  Ok, but is there any reason to believe the contract negotiations will fail?  Others have suggested this has “done deal” stamped on it, and I was just assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that that was true.

    November 6, 2009
  82. Tracy Davis said:

    Kathie, David L. is technically correct, but on a practical level, it’s probably a done deal.

    Randy, I agree with you that this council is committed to improving processes, and I think they’ve made good strides in that direction. However, our “new and improved” processes are not without flaws, and we need to be able to identify and correct those.

    You said,

    By the time something gets to the point of a vote, the issues have been clarified, analyzed and the solutions have become clear(er). Down this path lies the transparency many commentators on this forum want.

    This would have been ideal. However, in this particular case issues were not clarified, nor were they analyzed, by our elected officials, and they probably should have been.

    In retrospect, it would have been preferable for the council to direct the selection committee to submit their criteria, and the proposed scoring system, for council approval. This would have provided an opportunity for our elected officials to evaluate whether the scoring proposed by city staff adequately addressed all the issues, and would have provided for public input at an appropriate time in the process.

    In addition, this particular process was not very transparent. It was difficult to see where input might have been given along the way in this process. So thought should be given to how to improve that, as well. And of course, there’s the issue of the makeup of the selection committee, but I’ve addressed that before.

    My whole point here isn’t to complain about this particular outcome, but to point out ways in which the process should be improved. I believe that the result of the process used here will be found not to be in the best interest of the citizens of Northfield; that we will not see increases in efficiency and decreases in the cost of legal services; but time will tell.

    Meanwhile, I’m disappointed that a rather precedent-setting decision like this was jerry-rigged by city staff and rubber-stamped by the council because “we followed the process”.

    November 6, 2009
  83. David Ludescher said:

    Kathie:  The devil is in the details.  For example, I can’t imagine that Chris Hood has an extra 1000 hours a year to work on just the Northfield contract.  If he can’t give us the time, then what?   Elliot Knetsch says that he represents 6 or so other cities?  Are we going to get Mr. Knetsch every time?  Chances are quite good that neither of these folks plan on keeping office hours or having the availability that the Lampe firm had.   

    There might also be questions regarding travel time and philosophies about who the client is.

    I might be good for the negotiating committee to have a lawyer or two on the committee so that we are comparing apples to apples in the contracts.     

    November 6, 2009
  84. Tracy Davis said:

    Okay, as was pointed out to me by a city council member, an hour and a half discussion and a 4-3 vote isn’t exactly a rubber stamp. But still….

    November 6, 2009
  85. Barb Kuhlman said:

    Traci, how do you support your assertion that this “precedent-setting decision”  was “jerry-rigged by city staff.”?  You can be disappointed by the decision, but will every decision the council and staff make which you don’t like be similarly disparaged?

    November 6, 2009
  86. Tracy Davis said:

    Barb, I think the decision was jerry-rigged because the evaluation criteria and the scoring process was developed by staff, not by our elected officials.  Given the way the process was shaped, there was no way a local firm could meet the criteria.

    I don’t think the city staff should be making policy decisions, so I reserve the right to “disparage” that when I think it happens. The council makes many decisions that I don’t necessarily like, but that’s how things go in a representative democracy.

    November 6, 2009
  87. Barb Kuhlman said:

    Tracy, thank you for your explanation.

    November 7, 2009
  88. Lance Heisler said:

    I am the “silent” Lampe partner. I would fill in from time to time, but my partners Maren Swanson and Tim Morisette carried 98% of the load. We’re not sure around here exactly how long our office has served as the city attorney for Northfield, but it’s been more than 50 years.  Maren and Tim have each been at it for more than 20 years. That’s a pretty good gig no matter how you look at it. And one might say that after all that time, it was time for a change. And of course, that is what the city council has said. We can accept that, and we have.

    I completely agree with the suggestion that the best time to question the process is when it is being formulated. The devil really is in the details. You can literally be defined out of a job. And that is really the issue here. Once the criteria for service is established, the application of those criteria is pretty straightforward. Had we been more vigilant, we would have known from the beginning that if ANY metro firm with multiple lawyers experienced in municipal law were to bid, we had no chance keep the job.

    The bigger issue is how we as a city define our priorities for the future. There are no services provided by any professional or retail concern in our  community (pick one – medical, accounting, architect, automotive, insurance, retail etc) that cannot be bested by a metro concern using the  the “depth and breadth” argument.  Someone in the metro area by definition will always be able to “one up” any Northfield business if that is the dominant concern.

    Look closely at how the committee treated the “buy local” angle, and you will see that whether or not a firm was local was simply not a consideration. Here is the pronouncement from the committee on this issue: “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.” (emphasis added). The catch here, of course, is that all other selection criteria are never equal. No two law firms will ever be exactly the same in all other areas. The committee’s statement, therefore, is really just a play on words in which it appears to give deference to local counsel, without in fact giving any deference to local legal counsel.

    I am troubled by this viewpoint. I am of the belief that there is great value, both tangible and intangible, in members of this community trusting and relying on each other whenever we can. This is by no means an argument to accept inferior quality. The committee and the counsel bought into the argument that it’s bigger and better in the big city. This is nothing new. My experience and that of most of my out-state colleagues is that it’s only bigger in the big city. It’s not better. The Rice County courthouse files are replete with the stories of lawyers from big twin cities firms who lost cases here to local lawyers. For starters, we attended the same law schools as those lawyers did. And then there’s that small edge you get when you understand and know the local judges, the local lawyers, court personnel, and you know something about the folks who will be serving on your jury.

    Northfield in particular has an incredible wealth of intelligent, skilled,creative, and experienced professional and business people. Many of them (my wife among them) devote countless hours of their time, energy, expertise, and creativity to boards, committees, and commissions for the benefit of this city – all of which the city seems to accept willingly with no concerns that the quality of service is inferior to what it might receive elsewhere.

    I continue to believe that it makes a difference if you are providing service to your friends and neighbors – to the people you meet on the street; at local concerts and ball games and civic organizations and churches and the countless ways and times that we interact with each other. It makes a difference if you live here and own property and pay taxes and employ residents and patronize other businesses and devote your time and money to local charities and civic organizations. It makes a difference if you are available; if you take the time to talk with someone face to face, and whether you know something about that person or his or her family, or whether your willing to take the time to get to know them. It makes a difference if you know and understand the history of this town and are invested in its future.

    I believe we are all better served, in the long run, if we look to Northfield first to provide our goods and services, and not just when everything else is “equal”. I fear that if we don’t, the day is not far away when looking to Northfield won’t be an option at all.

    November 10, 2009
  89. David Ludescher said:

    Lance:  Do you have any suggestions on how the Council can develop criteria that takes into consideration the value of shopping locally?

    I think the negotiating committee and the City Council have to revisit this issue when it comes time to develop and approve the contracts.  For example, if either attorney is going to charge for travel time, there is an additional cost that doesn’t exist with a local attorney.  There are also accessibility issues.  If either attorney isn’t available, we either have to do without the “expert” or take some rookie in the office.  

    Additionally, I think that there is a general policy question regarding how to factor in the issues of paying local property taxes, giving volunteer time to the community, knowing your client, and other factors that drive good decision-making.     

    November 12, 2009
  90. kiffi summa said:

    Has anyone who looked over the materials from the new lawyers recommended by the selection committee noted the number of mentions of “annexation” in Mr. Hood’s resume?

    Forseeing? Forestalling? or just anticipating the possible need for such a depth of expertise …

    November 14, 2009
  91. Kiffi – yes, I have read the materials Mr Hood provided and will note that he advised the city on the revision of our annexation ordinance last year (which was erroneously perceived as a step toward annexing Waterford Twp land).

    I believe the correct answer is “anticipating the need for such a depth of expertise” and I hope Mr Hood is following the Planning Commission’s recommendation on 11/24 regarding the Prawer-Gill property and the Council’s subsequent action.

    November 15, 2009
  92. kiffi summa said:

    It appears that my comment in #70 was misinterpreted by some to be a negative comment re: Mr. Hoods expertise/experience with annexation issues. Actually, I think this much needed area of expertise, at this time, is an excellent  addition to the other skills of the city attorney, especially for a semi-rural community surrounded by townships with which the ‘city’ wishes to remain on good functioning terms.

    Since I tend to write long comments, it appears that my attempt at brevity was misleading…

     

    November 21, 2009