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New city attorney has utility experience

The city greeted its new attorney earlier this week, William H. Patton, who replaces Jack Johnson.

Officially stepping in on Wednesday as interim city attorney, Patton had been working with Johnson over the previous two weeks in order to facilitate a smooth transition. For the time being he is still busy with moving into the position, but already has his ficus (plant) firmly established in his new office at City Hall.

He will be considered interim for the next six months, after which, the city and Patton will decide the “next step” to take, according to City Manager Brenda Bauer.

Patton’s experience is heavily weighted in legal matters involving utilities and their relationships to municipalities.

“I get to deal with all (the city’s) legal issues,” Patton said. “Not just the ones that involve utilities. I’ve done more general municipality work as well.”

Patton recently left Foster Pepper PLLC, the law firm that has represented the City of Bainbridge Island in the past regarding its water utility issues, including the Bainbridge Ratepayers Alliance lawsuit against the city. He did not take part in arguing the case, he said, rather only provided briefings and background research.

“I bring a special expertise in utility law,” Patton said. “In what taxpayers need to pay for and what ratepayers need to pay for.”

Prior to his position at Foster Pepper, he spent 17 years as director of the utilities section for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office. He spent an additional nine years with the city attorney office’s litigation and utilities sections, eventually becoming its director.

“(Patton) also has a broad background in municipal law, which is necessary to help with the many different legal issues inherent in the daily operation of a city,” said City Manager Brenda Bauer in an email to the Review.

The new city attorney arrives at a time when the city is in the midst of a heated debate over the future of its water utility. The latest developments  include the city Utility Advisory Committee’s formal recommended to the council that the city refrain from divesting the utility, as opposed to handing operations over to another provider such as the Kitsap Public Utility District (KPUD).

“He was not selected for his particular expertise in utilities, although that will certainly be useful as we look at issues like potentially divesting utilities, changing municipal codes, and best practices improvements for utilities,” Bauer said.

Patton’s experience also includes previous high-profile cases in Seattle — notably cases such as Okeson v. City of Seattle, and Lane v City of Seattle, both of which included issues surrounding the proper use of general fund and the use of utility ratepayer funds. The rulings in the cases specifically addressed items such as city lighting and fire hydrants, and stated that such items are government functions and the costs associated with them cannot be passed onto ratepayers.

“The basis of some of their (Okeson v City of Seattle) complaints, as with the Bainbridge ratepayer complaints, was that there were expenditures that are required to be made by the general fund,” Patton said. “The basic allegations of Okeson is that you cannot charge ratepayers for things that the general government should support by tax revenues.”

The city attorney’s position is considered “Grade 22” and has a set annual salary of $130,716.

 

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