Santa Paula Times

City Attorney: Deadline for city legal service proposals closed last week

July 18, 2012
Santa Paula News

The City of Santa Paula’s deadline for firms and individuals to submit packets of qualifications and projected costs for providing legal services closed Thursday.

According to Human Resources Manager Lorena Alvarez, nine proposals were received by the July 12 city-imposed deadline. Jenkins & Hoggin has represented the city since about 2003, providing City Attorney Karl Berger - whose disappearance from the dais last fall was never publicly addressed or acknowledged - and Assistant City Attorney John Cotti.

The issue of exploring potential savings on legal fees was first brought up more than a year ago by then Vice Mayor Bob Gonzales, following several clashes with Berger. Gonzales said at the June 20, 2011 council meeting that he brought up the issue due to cuts to staff and salary due to city financial shortfalls, and that all costs should be examined.

The council was presented with a report of legal representation costs. Learning the fees had not been raised since 2008 and costs were lower than other cities, then-Mayor Fred Robinson and Councilman Rick Cook voiced their objections to seeking proposals. Each later opposed the motion to seek proposals, noting the reasonable fees charged by Jenkins & Hoggin for what they said has been excellent representation.

At that meeting Councilman Jim Tovias suggested that any new legal service provider receive a two-year contract to stimulate the number of responses, as well as to allow time “to get acclimated” to the city.

Councilman Ralph Fernandez disagreed, noting, “I would expect that the firms we solicit would be top-notch and hopefully would not need time to ‘get up an running....’ This is their job, and they would be ready to step right into their position.”

The council was still discussing the issue in February, when contracts points and processes for selection were finalized.

Tovias noted although he understood that “cost is important in terms of value,” also to be considered should be how applicants would be “very much in line with the direction we’re going...  East Area 1 and the other projects” that will be facing the council. “Law firms that are aligned with the direction we are headed is not a situation” that should be outweighed by actual costs. The issue, Tovias stressed, is “more than just rate per hour.”

According to the RFP/RFQ, the term of the contract will be two years with automatic yearly renewal for up to three years. The contract is subject to cancellation by the firm or the city at any time with 30 days notice. 

The document soliciting legal services noted, “The contract award, if any, will be made to the qualified firm or individual who, in the City Council’s sole discretion, is best able to perform the required services in a manner most beneficial to the City.” The award, it adds, “will be made on the basis of the best value to the City of Santa Paula.”

The proposal must also “identify the individual to be designated City Attorney, those individuals who are to provide service backup, and describe those individuals’ qualifications for providing city legal services.” Each proposal submitted was required to include an Affidavit of Non-Collusion and “attest that they have not offered any gratuities, favors, or anything of monetary value to any official, employee, or agent of the city for the purpose of influencing consideration of this proposal.”

City Manager Jaime Fontes “and/or selected staff” will review all submittals and pre-screen a certain number to forward for full council review. The top five applicants will be submitted for consideration by the council, and a “second tier” of applicants created if the top five are found wanting. 

The full council will select and/or interview certain candidates before making its decision, using, according to the document, “its own judgment and at its sole discretion” based on cited criteria.

All bidders also had to have an office address within a 75-mile radius from Santa Paula. The caveat made it tight for Jenkins & Hoggin, whose Manhattan Beach office is anywhere from 73.1 miles to 81 miles depending on the route taken. Like former City Attorney Berger, Cotti lives in the Santa Clarita area.

Overall, notes the city document, “The award will be made on the basis of the best value to the City of Santa Paula as determined by the majority of the City Council.”