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City Council inks attorney fee agreement

After a lengthy discussion over recent attorney fees, the Sunnyside City Council this past Monday approved a new fee agreement with Menke Jackson Beyer Ehlis & Harper LLP.

The discussion came about after a bill was submitted to the council for the month of October, during which the city of Sunnyside was charged more than $24,800 by the law firm.

The city's general counsel fee for the month of October is $12,000. Anything beyond the scope of the general counsel services is charged additional fees.

The Sunnyside City Council this past September agreed to pay the law firm a maximum of $5,000 for bargaining with the union representing professional firefighters, and $7,500 for negotiations with the Sunnyside Professional Employees Association.

During October, Menke Jackson Beyer Ehlis & Harper billed the city $2,107 for negotiations with the firefighters, and more than $3,900 for negotiations with the Sunnyside Professional Employees Association.

Scott Beyer told the council the maximum allowable amount agreed upon has nearly been reached and future billings cannot exceed the limits in place.

Also included in the billing were union negotiation fees for bargaining with police and nearly $5,000 worth of charges for legal services associated with meeting the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Beyer reviewed costs associated with legal fees over the course of the past five years, noting the past in-house attorney cost Sunnyside $130,000 in 2006. That was in addition to another $318,000 for outside counsel.

The budget for legal fees in 2007 and 2008 was in excess of what the city has paid Menke Jackson Beyer Ehlis & Harper since the firm began representing Sunnyside in 2009.

Beyer said his firm also has asked the Sunnyside City Council to consider hiring an in-house attorney, utilizing the firm for outside counsel.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock acknowledged the work Menke Jackson Beyer Ehlis & Harper has completed on behalf of the city since 2009. She said the city had 17 lawsuits when the firm took over legal services and has reduced the number to five.

Hancock said the firm has also benefitted the city during union negotiations because it's not "staff pitted against staff."

Beyer said the new legal services fee agreement will reduce the general services billing to $9,000, which means the city will be paying less for its basic legal fees.

"The new agreement is intended on an interim basis," he said, stating the desire is to prepare the city of Sunnyside for an in-house attorney, "If that's the direction council wishes."

After a review of the new agreement, the Sunnyside City Council voted in favor of the contract.

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