City hires high-priced attorney, gives little explanation

Katie Cooper/Staff Writer

Citing a need for help in evaluating the performance of the city’s high-level personnel, a divided City Council Monday hired an employment attorney from one of the top firms in the Los Angeles area.

But the council’s action suggests that the stakes are higher than those involved with personnel evaluations. The attorney, Nancy McClelland, is a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, one of the most prestigious — and pricey — law firms in the country. McClelland’s main practice is in representing employers in job-related lawsuits, including claims involving employment discrimination, sexual harassment and wrongful termination. She will be paid $420 an hour, the same rate at which President Clinton paid his private counsel, David Kendall, to represent him during the impeachment proceedings.

The council made only brief mention of what type of legal services McClelland will provide, and council members Harry Barovsky and Joan House, who voted against retaining McClelland, seemed in the dark about what type of work she will be doing.

“This is the first time we have brought in outside counsel to assist us in some undefined, unknown way,” said House.

Outside of council chambers, Mayor Walt Keller and Councilman Tom Hasse refused to discuss the matter. Personnel evaluations are conducted in the council’s closed session.

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The council can hire and fire only three members of the city staff: City Manager Harry Peacock, City Attorney Christi Hogin and the interim finance director.

The McClelland hiring appears tied to Hogin because relations between her and some members of the council are apparently strained. She recently underwent five evaluations in close succession, an unusual rate. And she alone among the city’s department heads was asked to provide time sheets accounting for her hours of work during the day.

Hogin was not specifically addressed during the council’s discussion of the matter, and she said before the meeting that she had no knowledge of the council’s reasons for hiring McClelland.

Most of the council’s debate was over the decision to hire an attorney at such a high rate, an amount for which Keller did not express any concern despite his celebrated parsimony.

Barovsky said he expected that the city will end up paying a “spectacular” amount of money, perhaps in the six-figure range.

“This is one of the top firms in the country,” he said. “They rarely pick up a file for under $20,000.”

Hasse said McClelland will soon provide the council with an estimate of her overall costs.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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