The following is the opinion of a local mover & shaker on how to save money in the Sandusky Law Department:
Now that Matt Kline has the unenviable task of trimming the city's budget, the law department's budget deserves special attention.
Sandusky now has approximately 26,000 residents. Many cities our size do not have a full time law director. When you consider what that department has become over the last decade, it's clear that we have a major problem there, both from a financial standpoint and an operating standpoint. Consider that in 1998, with the city population aound 32,0000, the city had one person in the department. That person made around $55,000 annually, and the city had fewer legal issues. Now, 10 years later, our law director makes $105,000 annually, has a staff of three, and the city has ten times the legal problems it had then. Yes, the world has become a more litigious place, but don't discount the increases in legal troubles the city faces because of poor legal advice from the city's law department.
The law department plays a shell game with legal fees. For example, if the development department needs legal advice, the cost comes out their budget, not the law department's budget. The legal outsourcing to expensive law firms like SS&D is out of control and there is no way to get the true cost of what the department spends on legal services. Consider how many times outside counsel is used during the course of city business. A law director should be doing most of that work, not outsourcing it - which effectively makes city residents pay for the service twice. I challenge you to accumulate a list of outside firms used, and the total invoice value of those firms over the last 8 years. The numbers will amaze you.
Consider the law director's role in the following cases:
The Nuesse debacle:
The law director should have warned the city manager about how difficult it would be to replace her. He should've warned Kline that in order to fire the chief, the city must have an actual case against them, not a whisper campaign which will eventually result in a reversal of the poor decision to fire her. Remember that city commissioners immediately began looking for her replacement without realizing that the police chief had remedies against an unjust firing (civil service commission) and was almost guaranteed to use them under these circumstances. The entire ordeal could've been avoided with sound advice from the city law director. As it stands now, it will cost the city over $1,000,000, plus the untold cost of the city's reputation.
Rise in insurance premiums:
Some argue that the Nuesse case won't cost the city anything because "insurance pays for it." Examine how the city's insurance premiums have grown to since our current law director was hired. Most residents don't agree with the notion that insurance is "free."
In 11 years we have had 5 different managers, too many commishioners and administrative people to count, and made no progress in improving this city, or properly dealing with a shrinking community. The position of city law director (even if it continues as a full time position) should be filled by a young attorney looking to make a name for himself in the law community. He should make around $60,000 annually, and if he leaves for a private law firm someday, he should be replaced by another young attorney trying to make a name for himself in the law community.
One of the purposes of the law director is to give legal advice to city departments to avoid litigation, not cause it. In the past several years, the city's law department hasn't fulfilled that role very well, has it?