Palm Coast’s city attorneys are asking for a 15 percent raise, and they’re likely to get it, adding between $50,000 and $60,000 to the city’s annual legal bill of just under $400,000.
But the city council’s discussion on the matter then veered to the method through which the city administration was bringing forth the raise, without examining outside firms or bidding out the contract. Council member Steven Nobile, who’s had various run-ins with City Manager Jim Landon and fellow council members, objected to the method, suggesting it lacked accountability. Landon then called it “obnoxious” and “offensive” to go through the sort of exercise that only reaffirms a relationship with an existing contractor, prompting more displeasure from Nobile.
The discussion was the latest example of a recurring conflict between Nobile on one side and the council and the administration on the other. It underscores Nobile’s attempts to upend the city’s institutionalized—and, until now, unquestioned—way of doing business while reinforcing the extent to which most council members align themselves with that way of doing business, as represented by their city manager.
It had all started on a much lighter note.
Because the discussion had to do with lawyers—specifically, Palm Coast government’s contract with its lawyers, and more specifically, paying those lawyers more—it started with two jokes: “We’re recommending not to do this,” Started Jim Landon, the city manager. “How much is he lowering his cost?” went council member Bill McGuire.
Then it got serious, as the costs are: Palm Coast is budgeting $394,000 for legal services this year. Though Bill Reischmann is generally the city attorney who sits at workshop and business meetings, he represents Garganese, Weiss and D’Agresta, an Orlando firm that provides most of the legal services the city needs.
According to the current contract, the city pays its legal bills two ways. There’s an annual retainer of $270,000 (paid monthly, at $22,500.) That covers all services, including paralegal work and travel to and from the city. But it excludes all litigation work, legal opinions related to bonds and city debt and any specialized work relating to worker’s compensation, pensions, or matters where the attorney may have a conflict of interest.
That’s when the hourly billing kicks in: the current charge is $150 an hour for attorneys and $75 an hour for paralegals, with each travel to and from legal proceedings billed at $150.
The firm is asking to increase the retainer by $40,500 a year, to a total of $310,500, payable in monthly installments of $25,875.
Presenting the numbers to the city council Tuesday, City Manager Jim Landon framed the proposal as “about a 10 percent increase, if I recall,” and the subsequent conversation with council members was based on the 10 percent figure: the council was not presented with the existing contract’s numbers. Nor did council members check Landon’s figure.
In fact, it’s a 15 percent increase, and represents an increase of a third more than the cost of inflation since 2009. In other words, the $270,000-a-year retainer currently in place, when adjusted for inflation (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ calculator) would be $299,460. The firm is asking for that cost-of-living adjustment, plus $11,000.
A few department directors and managers aside, no local government employees, in the city or the county, have received anywhere near that sort of raise, even when cost of living is included, since 2009.
Palm Coast’s attorneys are asking for an even higher raise for their hourly rates: From $150 to $175 an hour, or a 16.7 percent raise, for attorneys, and from $75 to $90 for paralegals, a 20 percent raise.
The proposed amendment includes yet another addition to the older contract: Every Oct. 1, the hourly rate for both attorneys and paralegals will be increased in line with the Consumer Price Index for the Southern region, thus almost guaranteeing an annual raise that city and county employees do not receive absent affirmative action by their respective governing boards.
“It’s obnoxious and offensive to do that to an individual just to put on a show,” Landon said of making a law firm prove its worth if it’s not being fired.
The council hires only two employees: the city manager and the city attorney (or the firm that provides the city attorney). Landon, the city manager, discussed the matter from the administration’s perspective—which, in actuality, involves the city attorney far more than council members do. “Extremely pleased with the service we’re getting,” Landon said, “not just in my office but in our planning office and code, any time we’ve had issues, they’ve made adjustments for us etc. I can’t say enough good things,” he said.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, did we try to get less than $150 an hour,” council member Steven Nobile asked.
“No, we did not go out to bid or ask for proposals,” Landon said. “It’s at least my opinion, it’s like a doctor, when you have a good doctor that you have a good relationship with, you don’t go see if you get a better price every time you need a doctor, and I think attorney—although he is technically not a city employee, he is or the firm is, fills the role of a constitutional officer, charter officer in this case. So if you want to change attorneys, just like you would an employee, you don’t go out and open up the position and say we’re going to look at what we have and then decide whether we’re going to do something better. If you’re going to get rid of Garganese, Weiss and D’Agresta, great, then you go out and get somebody else. But it’s more like an employment contract than it is a contract for a specific project.”
Nobile, who has run into conflicts on several recent occasions with Landon, pressed the point, saying he was looking out for the public. “Just like we looked at the engineering firm,” Nobile said, “we started with qualifications first, not just to have the dollars, but to have a comparison and have opened it up, and said OK, see, we did, but we’re still going this way because the points are much greater.”
“Once again,” Landon said, “with it being more of a personnel opposition, you fire them first and then you go out and go through the process.”
“I don’t see that, he’s not a personnel,” Nobile said.
“He’s our personnel, he’s the city council’s personnel,” council member Jason DeLorenzo said.
Nobile insisted that he would likely approve staying with the council, but he wanted to show the public that the city had gone through the exercise of making the case for the firm. “I hear this from my constituents constantly,” he said. “Why did we not go for bids for this, why not for that. I mean, some people suggested why don’t we have an in-house” attorney.
“My opinion, based on a lot of experience because I’ve seen it happen,” Landon said, “you go through this little song and dance and you say yeah, we’re still going to go with this firm but we want to go through this process for the public. It’s obnoxious and offensive to do that to an individual just to put on a show.”
“No, what you’re being asked to do is prove why you want to stay,” Nobile said. “It’s not a song and a dance. It’s not a pony show that says we did this, so be quiet we’re going with this guy. What I’m saying is, you’re proving your case, and if you can’t prove your case, then we’ve got an issue.”
“If you truly want to go through that process, city council can do that,” Landon said.
There is no interest among council members to go in that direction. DeLorenzo said the discussion taking place just then was the justification for staying with the law firm. Nobile wasn;t satisfied: he wanted the sort of justification that, like a bid, can show the public why the city was sticking with the firm.
By then, all talk of the raise, which the council is expected to formalize by vote at its next business meeting, was forgotten.
Jon Netts, the mayor, recalled that the city at one point had its own, in-house attorney. DeLorenzo said he was surprised by the number of cities that still stick with in-house attorneys when they can draw on outside firms that themselves can then draw on a wider stable of attorneys.
The firm started working for Palm Coast government in January 2008. For the first 12 to 14 months, the firm billed the city an hourly rate. It then instituted the retainer. Reischmann told the council Tuesday that the work the firm provides now adds up to more than $23,000 a month, thus exceeding the retainer’s compensation. He said the new rate “is getting up to” the rates the firm is billing other local governments.
Richard Mikola says
Everyone knows that Councilman Nobile’s constituents are the Tea Party/ Ronald Reagan Republican Assembly of Flagler County. Will these people ever go away?
These snakes do not always crawl at night.
This is all a mistake
There is no inflation at all
Gas is down, everything is down, food is down
At least that is what Social security recipients have been told
(no raise for seniors and none for ss disability)
City council, you need to check your numbers and index to the same urban worker index that the Feds used
Oh. And what the Council also needs to do is stop putting on this show of representing the folks here. Few believe it anymore. You can fool some of the people some of the time yadayadayada. Thanks for speaking up a bit Steven Nobile and thanks Pierre for exposing this farce.
There is a reason for voter apathy.
Did they plant money trees all around the new city hall building????
[PLEASE don’t use all-caps. It’s shouting. Resubmit in normal style. Thank you.–FL]
WE ARE GOING TO NAME NOBILE MR FLIP-FLOP, WHEN HE CANT GET HIS OWN WAY HE FLIP-FLOPS. WE PAY NOBILE AWAY TO MUCH, HE ADDMITTED ON TAPE HE ONLY WORKS A DAY AND A HALF A WEEK FOR THE CITY. MAYBE HE SHOULD WALK A WEEK IN THE CITY ATTORNEYS SHOES WHO WORKS 24-7 FOR THE CITY AND RESIDENTS, BUT HE CANT HE DOESENT HAVE THE EDUCATION OR THE SMARTS TO DO THE JOB. WHY DID HE RUN FOR OFFICE WHEN HE HATES THE CITY SO MUCH. MAYBE TIME FOR A RECALL.
Disabled Veteran says
I received notice that for only the third time in the last 40 years the disability pension that I received each month will not be increasing this year BECAUSE there is no cost of living increase this year. Prices are flat and gas is low. I am a disabled war veteran. Lost part of my body and some of my mind for this great country. Perhaps our elected officials should briefly think of us when they spend our money with little regard of where that money comes from. I cannot afford more taxes. My property taxes are already increasing. My wages are flat. This increase for the attorneys should not happen!
Brad W says
Steven Nobile says, “What I’m saying is, you’re proving your case, and if you can’t prove your case, then we’ve got an issue.” Oh, the irony.
I think it’s not really appropriate to refer to a fee increase from an outside firm that the City is contracting with “giving a raise”. It’s misleading and most readers will assume that this is referring to employees of the City. They are not employees. They are a firm we contract with. And, yes, I can understand and even agree that rate and cost increases should be questioned but I also agree that it’s a reasonable increase for this situation and it’s not the issue Mr. Nobile wants to make it to be. We are growing (and far more than most people want to realize), and naturally costs are going to increase with certain things, and when it comes to legal areas you want to stay with the firm that knows you and has a good tract record with you.
Steven Nobile is looking for anything right now for a “gotcha” moment since all of the accusations and claims he made during the campaign have all fallen flat. The City took the rug out from underneath him when they yanked the red light cameras prior to the election, and his calls for a charter review has been best classified as embarrassing and purely self-serving. If anything, the comic relief he provides each time he tries to raise issue with anything is nice.
Palm Coaster says
The Attorney’s that we have working for the City of Palm Coast have done an outstanding job. I’ve worked with several of them over the years and I’ve come to know them and thier dedication to our City. What no one has addressed in the comments, is the fact that the City has also grown in population and the legal workload has also grown. Thier increase should be approved.
Mr. Nobile’s support team are mostly on fixed incomes, but a growing city should not be!
At times I think Mr Nobile is just a loose cannon (pardon the pun), without thinking out the situation and making up his own decisions instead of his constituents demands.
I don’t care how outstanding the job is, you put these items OUT FOR A BID, unless you have a corrupt government.
There, I’ve said it. Feel ever so much better now.
The loose cannons in the town are all here, Palm Coaster. Every one of them.
You don’t have to put it out for bid, but you should at least try and negotiate it. If the council is just going to rubber stamp any proposal Landon puts forth then why bother having a council. What’s obnoxious and offensive is that Landon doesn’t even know the amount of the increase requested ““about a 10 percent increase, if I recall,” .Why did no one on the council take exception to the fact the person supposedly managing the day to day affairs of the city can’t even cite specific accurate figures regarding this matter and obviously didn’t try to negotiate it on behalf of the citizens he represents?
Mr. Nobile, please keep your stances. Seek out new law firms.
They don’t need a raise!!!!
I think the increase the attorneys want is a bit much and they seem to be pushing the envelope on what they want,
Why doesn’t Landon and Netts NEGOTIATE A BETTER PRICE WITH MR REISCHMAN’S FIRM? I would think the attorneys would be willing to do that. If they weren’t willing to negotiate then the next time the attorney asks for more money I would tell them that the Council is going to look around at other firms.
Reischmann may be doing a good job, but I sense some kind of “friendly agreement and bond” between Landon and Netts.
Howard Duley says
I don’t get a social security increase because gasoline is down yet these pieces of garbage get a 15% increase. It has to be wonderful to be able to suck around the local garbage we call our city and county leaders.
Why does an Orlando based law firm work for PC? Why not use a local law firm in Flagler County?
If we all got 15% raises just for doing our jobs – even doing our jobs really well, just because we requested it, there would be no businesses left. The idea that the City Manager just wants to go with it and only one commissioner questioned it is showing the citizens of Palm Coast how easily the manager & City Commission are willing to waste your tax dollars. If they offered to put bids out for an in house attorney with a package worth $270,000 a year, there would be piles of resumes coming in. If my lawn guy (though I don’t have one) popped up & said hey, I need a 15% raise because I’ve been doing a really good job on your lawn, I would certainly have to negotiate and look around at other options before agreeing, especially if it wasn’t my money I was paying him with!
You get what you pay for. Why would you want to go out for bids for a cheaper law firm when you have one that’d doing a great job. Reischmann and his firm are first class and have saved this city many times over. Pay them and move on.
PC Is Unreal says
I still do not understand why we have a City Attorney from Orlando as opposed to someone local.
May I ask a question here? When do the contracts for the attorneys and the city manager expire? I’m not sure why this city is so unwilling to act as the law states and put these contracts up for a bid. Something is quite fishy here.
Now, will somebody please answer my question?
Hang in there Nobile. I am glad you are there.
Love This Guy says
Why is Noble the only one challenging this? Simply outrageous that the other commissioners and cm are ready to rubber stamp these increases. Maybe the other city employees should ask for a 15-16% increase. Doubt that would get the rubber stamp without pay studies, negotiations,etc.