Moab city has established a formal contract with a Salt Lake City law firm for as-needed, employment-related legal advice. The city council voted 4-0 Feb. 14 to accept a one-year contract with Parr, Brown, Gee, and Loveless (Parr Brown). The law firm will handle certain cases as needed, as determined by the city attorney and the city manager.
“Chris [McAnany] is still the City Attorney and we consult with him on all legal concerns, including employment matters,” said Interim Moab City Manager David Everitt. “As a situation arises, he and I will determine what he can take on in terms of workload and what we should have Parr Brown take on.”
Facing personnel and employment issues last spring, Moab city’s insurance carrier — Utah Local Governments Trust — and former City Manager Rebecca Davidson recommended hiring Parr Brown for specialized legal advice.
The law firm has since invoiced Moab City $99,409 for services, bills the city council approved as “purchasing exceptions.” The council approved a $33,928 bill in September and a $65,481 bill in January for work on internal affairs investigations involving the Moab Police Department, general “employment matters,” and GRAMA- (Government Records Access and Management Act) related legal advice. According to information provided to The Times-Independent, Moab City fielded 53 GRAMA requests from January 2016 to the present.
The firm’s “as-needed” contract with Moab City outlines an hourly rate of approximately $330.
“[I]f there is no need to use Parr Brown’s services, there will be no payment,” Everitt said. “This approach gives the city the flexibility to expand or contract the amount of services used depending on the need moving forward.”
The firm will also be limited to monthly ceilings of $7,500, after which the city manager must seek authorization from the council to continue services.
That ceiling, said city council member Kalen Jones, will insure that the council has greater accountability when it comes to specialized legal services.
“In the final vote there was a little more accountability to the council in terms of establishing a preauthorized monthly amount before staff would come to the council,” Jones said. “So we’re more in the loop instead of ending up with a multi-month bill and [staff] asking for a purchasing exception.”
Everitt said the “frequency and complexity” of the employment-related issues in 2016 motivated the city to seek a formal contract with experts.
Five law firms applied for the contract. Although Parr Brown’s proposal was the most expensive, the firm was rated highest in a staff evaluation, most notably in experience.
“My understanding is that Parr Brown has extensive experience especially in HR law,” said city council member Tawny Knutson-Boyd. “Given some of the recent issues that we have had I thought it prudent to have somebody with a good solid background rather than just a general background when those needs arise.”
Everitt said establishing a formal contract with Parr Brown will also ensure that McAnany “is not stretched too thin.”
McAnany has served as Moab City Attorney since 1999. Although he said the municipality has always gone through periods that require additional legal advice, three factors contribute to the present need - an “explosion” in economic growth, new city initiatives, and ongoing personnel and employment issues. The council also approved renewing McAnany’s contract at an hourly rate of $225.
“The city is going through a significant period of growth with a lot of development-related pressures. Concurrent with that, we’ve had significant turnover with staff and that has also created some challenges. And lastly, we have a fairly active council with a lot of new initiatives in the works ... [which] means more work for staff to bring those ordinances up to current needs,” McAnany said. “In some ways, it’s just a function of new priorities.”
Although council member Heila Ershadi did not attend the Feb. 14 meeting, she has voiced concerns about the city’s legal contracting in the past, saying hourly relationships, on both contracts, could potentially become expensive for the city.
“I am not sure this by-the-hour contracting is the most fiscally responsible option or the most effective,” Ershadi said. “However, I accept the council’s decision and I am aware of the points in favor of keeping these services the way they are.”
Kyle Bailey, now in his fifth consecutive term on the city council, said such legal expenses are expected when Moab city faces difficult situations.
“Especially when you get into these employee lawsuits, the police department especially, that just racks up the bills,” Bailey said. “ ... We’ve always used a wide range of legal counsel in the city. And in the recent past, we have used a full range because of the complexity of HR laws and the complexity of everything.”
Everitt said that Parr Brown will be helpful in upcoming situations, such as “careful crafting” of documentation for disciplinary outcomes if they are needed.
“[McAnany] would be aware of and advising on how to handle that but probably Parr Brown’s attorneys would engage in the detailed review and drafting of those documents,” Everitt said.
Although “not a guarantee,” Everitt told the council he anticipates a reduced need for Parr Brown’s services in the future.
“I think you had an extraordinary year with regard to the need for employment related legal services,” Everitt said. “I certainly would hope and predict that you will not have quite as extraordinary of a need in the years to come. But ... it’s not a guarantee that that would be the case.”