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A mistake made in haste?

The abrupt decision to replace Steve Amerikaner with the Jenkins and Hogin firm as the Attorney for the city of Malibu based on undisclosed cost savings and without the usual competitive search and evaluation of candidates is a major concern of the Malibu Township Council.

A review of the costs for legal representation for the fiscal years from 1996 through 2001 complied by Steve Amerikaner in a non-confidential memorandum requested by Mayor Tom Hasse does not appear to support the alleged cost-saving decision.

In fact, the following comparison of the annualized cost from March 2000 when Steve Amerikaner was hired with costs for the years from March 1996 indicates just the opposite.

1996-97 1997-98 1998-99 1999-00 2000-01

Actual Estimated Budget Actual Budget

City Attorney

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$236,710 $216,710 $208,644 $407,763 $482,500

Litigation

Services

$331,310 $331,310 $328,409 $229,919 -0-

TOTAL:

$568,020 $548,020 $537,053 $637,682 $482,500

Steve Amerikaner (March/April 2000 – February 2001)

General Services: 243,800

Litigation Oversight: 23,464

Litigation In-House: 32,136

Total (11 1/2 months): $301,400

Annualized: $314,504

Per Mr. Amerikaner’s memo, during the first 6 months of his term in office, from March 15, 2000 through Sept. 30, legal fees were high due to “1) there were two elections and two changes of city manager 2) there was a substantial backlog of work when we arrived and 3) we were new to the job.”

Despite these additional obstacles, our analysis shows that the resulting annualized legal cost was about $233,516 less than the lowest fees incurred during the tenure of Christi Hogin. Fees for all services during Mr. Amerikaner’s tenure, including litigation oversight and litigation in-house, declined from a high of about $31,700 per month for March-April to about $22,500 per month for September.

Fees during the October 2000 through February 2001 period stabilized to about $20,000 per month. The projected $240,000 per year cost indicated that the purported savings goal was already in progress and the drastic move to change attorneys was not necessary.

As for the cost projections that allegedly justified the swift, draconian action that the council took to remove an apparently competent, cost effective city attorney, according to a report in the local papers, it appears that only one councilmember claims to possess this information, and whatever its merits as an answer to this question, has yet to share it with the rest of the council or the public.

The Malibu Township Council urges the City Council to reconsider and rescind their action, and attempt to remedy any problems with our present city attorney respecting fees or other matters through discussion and negotiation.

If this process fails, the council should not negotiate a legal service agreement with Jenkins and Hogin, or any other single, favored law firm. It should, instead, protect Malibu citizens and taxpayers by initiating the normal competitive job search, appointing a citizen’s city attorney advisory committee to examine and report on the qualifications and experience of competing candidates for this very important position. Any eventual decision should be based on competitive proposals and interviews of interested candidates, including the Jenkins and Hogin firms.

It may very well be that the council, having felt pressed for reasons not made public, acted with the best of intentions. However, whatever the circumstances, it does seem that the actions taken by the Council was a mistake made in haste, which can still be corrected.

We sincerely hope that this communication will convince you of the necessity of your taking corrective action, substantially, as suggested above.

Efrom Fader

President, Malibu Township Council

13StarsManager
https://malibutimes.com
The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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