Morro Bay to contract out city attorney position

nwilson@thetribunenews.comFebruary 26, 2014 

City Attorney Robert Schultz listens to public comment during the Morro Bay City Council's special meeting Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at the Veterans Memorial Building.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

After the controversial exit of longtime in-house attorney Robert Schultz, the city of Morro Bay has opted to contract out its legal services on an interim basis.

The Morro Bay City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve a contract hiring the Irvine-based firm Aleshire & Wynder, appointing firm partner Joseph W. Pannone as interim city attorney. The contract will start March 1.

The firm has offices in Irvine, El Segundo, Fresno and Riverside. Pannone has specialized in municipal law for 30 years and currently provides city attorney services to Bellflower and Lompoc, according to the firm’s website.

Schultz was Morro Bay’s in-house city attorney from 1997 until his forced resignation and departure in November. No reason was given by the City Council for the separation.

Morro Bay’s acting interim city attorney, Anne Russell, estimated in a staff report the cost for Aleshire & Wynder’s interim general city attorney legal services to be $66,500 from March 1 through June 30 and $149,000 for the 2014-15 fiscal year beginning July 1.

Specialty and litigation services could cost an additional $20,000 through June 30 and an additional $60,000 for the next fiscal year, Russell said. That would mean a total of about $86,500 through June and $209,000 for the next fiscal year.

The firm’s hourly rate for general legal services will be $155 until 2015, and up to $195 for most specialized work or litigation.

Specialized legal services include disciplinary matters, public financing, labor negotiations, redevelopment, housing, cable television, toxics, refuse, franchising and major contracts involving more than 10 hours of work.

The general services fee, meanwhile, increases depending on the number of hours worked each month.

Until Aug. 31, general services beyond 75 hours per month would cost $175 per hour. Rates would change to $175 per hour after the first 50 hours per month from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31.

Starting in January 2015, rates would rise to $185 per hour over the first 50 hours per month. Rates for most specialty legal services would rise to $205 per hour in 2015.

The contract allows the city to terminate the agreement at any time with no right to hearing or notice by Aleshire & Wynder. It also allows the firm to end the contract on 60 days’ notice.

The contract requires a performance evaluation every six months.

“This contract affords the Council an opportunity to compare legal costs, availability and responsiveness of legal counsel, the quality of legal services and the variety of legal expertise offered by a full service municipal law firm,” Russell wrote in the staff report.

Schultz’s annual salary was $151,589. His severance package totaled $163,000, which included nine months of pay along with some sick pay, and all accrued vacation and holiday pay.

Schultz was hired as city attorney for Los Gatos in December at a base salary of $185,000 per year.

In the fiscal year 2012-13, the city spent about $263,000 total on in-house and outside counsel services, Russell said in an email Tuesday afternoon.

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