The Bunnell City Commission for the first time in over seven years approved an amendment to its contract with its city attorneys of the Winter Park-based Vose Law Firm, raising the contract’s value to from $84,000 a year to $90,000 a year.
The amendment also means that Charles Cino will no longer be the city’s attorney on the Planning and Zoning Board. He will be replaced by Vose attorney.
“This is the first time we’ve even discussed with the attorneys’ firm any type of change,” Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson said.
Bunnell hired the firm almost seven and a half years ago for $7,000 a month. The fee hasn’t changed since. There is no additional charge for travel time or expenses, nor for litigation time. The city had long retained separate counsel to represent the city at its planning board, a role filled by Cino. The city administration suggested that “it may be appropriate to consolidate those services,” Wade Vose, the attorney who usually sits at commission meeting, said Monday evening.
“We’ve been looking at really tightening up the PZA processes,” City Manager Alvin Jackson said, “making sure we have appropriate documentation to bring forward to the board.”
The additional cost of the Vose contract would be mostly offset by the elimination of costs for separate counsel, Vose said.
One of the attorneys from the firm, either Nancy Ann Stuparich or John Cary, would represent the city at the planning board. The Vose firm attorneys have been attending planning board meetings for several months to get ready. But the firm will not represent the city at the code enforcement board “because there are particular statutory provisions relating to that,” Vose said. Separate counbsel will still be retained for those meetings.
The process that led to the Vose firm’s hiring in 2013 was quite involved, with three firms vying for the contract that was to replace Sid Nowell, who’d represented the city for many years until his resignation in early 2013. The Vose firm had initially asked for $8,000 a month. “You were talking about risk and rewards,” Commissioner John Rogers told Becky Vose as she stood at the lectern in late October 2013, making her pitch. “I was wondering, you know, if we could start off at $7,000 monthly fee. I’m just throwing a number out there.”
Vose hesitated then agreed. “But I would want to tell you ahead of time with the $8,000 I probably wouldn’t come back and whine to you right away.” As it turned out, she never has, making her firm’s request for $7,500 surprising both for its belatedness and modesty, considering its lawyers’ smooth, no-drama, all-business relationship with the city since then. (Palm Coast’s current city attorney budget is $544,000, the county’s is $908,000).
The raise is not quite a raise in inflation-adjusted dollars: $7,000 in 2013 is the equivalent of $7,840 today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, in effect leaving Bunnell still $4,000 ahead even with the raise. So it was somewhat of an understatement when Robinson said, after the commission’s 5-0 vote to accept the contract amendment: “We appreciate what you do with the city.”