After foregoing the interviewing process, the La Crescent City Council, on the recommendation of City Administrator Bill Waller, named Skip Wieser of Wieser Law Office its new city attorney at a special meeting June 6. Upon the approval, Wieser, an attorney at the family law firm in La Crescent since 2003, resigned from his position as La Crescent Township attorney.
The city, which called for proposals in April, received responses from Wieser, Rippe, Hammel and Murphy, Lawyers at Work and Flaherty/Hood. Though the top two candidates could be interviewed by a subcommittee, Waller suggested the council allow him to review the proposals and make the recommendation because we didn't believe that process was necessary.
Flaherty/Hood's proposal was for civil services only and Lawyers at Work isn't currently licensed in the state of Minnesota. Only Wieser and Rippe, Hammell and Murphy's proposals included both civil and criminal services. Skip Wieser was the only attorney present at the meeting.
Waller recommended Wieser because it addressed both civil and criminal portions and met proposal submission requirements. It's also the most cost-effective, Waller believes, because hourly rates are the lowest among the four offices. He also liked the idea of the primary attorney having full-time office hours in La Crescent.
Wieser has also worked for the city in the past on specialized projects, whereas with Rippe, Hammell and Murphy, the city would be retaining a firm and not a particular attorney, which to Waller was "not acceptable."
Council member Scott Yeiter questioned who would assist the city if Wieser was unavailable, to which Waller said another attorney at the office would.
"I think maybe having more than one attorney is probably a good thing," Yeiter said. "Skip probably doesn't spend every waking moment in his office. He might want to take a vacation day someday."
Waller said he didn't agree with that assessment.
Council member Bernie Buehler said Wieser's presence in the city is attractive, and motioned to award the contract to the firm. Council member Greg Husmann seconded it.
Yeiter said he has no doubt both firms can adequately provide the services the city requests, but that his concern is cost. Wieser broke down his costs into specific categories and left open the possibility for increased fees under special circumstances, whereas Rippe, Hammell and Murphy proposed charging a $2,000 flat monthly fee for any and all services with unlimited attorney time.
Wieser said a flat fee "creates a disincentive to do work and creates an incentive to process things through quickly." In some cases, that's fine, but not in others, he said.
"I think there's some initial appeal to just saying a flat $2,000 a month," he said, "but I don't think that's a service to the law enforcement or police department."
Based on what the city is spending now on legal fees, Wieser figures the monthly bill will average between $1,700 and $2,200, and 15 hours a month could be spent on criminal matters. Last year, the city spent about $51,000 in attorney fees. In 2009, it was about $77,000 and in 2008, about $60,000, Waller said when asked.
The city attorney prosecutes all tickets written in the jurisdiction, regardless if it's written by a conservation officer, state trooper or police officer, Mayor Mike Poellinger added.
Buehler's motion passed 4-1, with Yeiter dissenting.
Cell phone tower
The council turned down an offer from Crown Castle International of $205,350 for a permanent easement near the cell phone tower/flag poll at
La Crescent Community Arena. The city had originally accepted an offer of $215,000, but Crown Castle never followed through with the transaction, Waller said.
Currently, the city receives $1,200 per month in leasing the site, with 19 years remaining on the agreement. The city stands to make $273,600 under that arrangement, Yeiter said. The lump sum would be money up front, he said, but if the city took the yearly money, it'll help pay the building off, plus bank funds for future maintenance. He motioned to deny the offer and Husmann seconded. The motion passed.