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Changes afoot in legal arena

The city and its attorney agree to cap costs for general services.

The city may yet put the brakes on accelerating legal costs.

General legal spending will be capped at $225,000 next year, under a new agreement with the Bellevue firm of Inslee, Best, Doezie, Rider, which has provided services to the city for more than a decade.

The agreement was announced by Mayor Darlene Kordonowy and approved by the City Council at Wednesday’s regular meeting.

Key to the contract is a provision that will, for the first time, put an attorney in City Hall for general consultation on a regular basis.

Kordonowy and interim city Administrator Lee Walton had proposed an in-house attorney in the draft 2004 budget – supplemental to the services of Inslee, Best – but the position was waylaid during the council’s budget deliberations.

Kordonowy then negotiated in-house services into a new contract with city attorney Rod Kaseguma, a partner in the Inslee, Best firm.

The firm will put a lawyer in City Hall three days a week, possibly Kaseguma or partner Rosemary Larson, who also has done work for the city.

Kordonowy and Walton have argued that having an attorney on staff, participating in the drafting of of ordinances and advising on day-to-day matters, would lower overall legal costs by keeping the city out of trouble.

The arrangement with Inslee, Best effectively creates a city “legal department,” the mayor acknowledged.

“We need to have someone who can advise us early on, on the steps we take toward accomplishing what the citizens want,” Kordonowy said.

While general legal costs are capped below present spending – $250,000 was budgeted in 2003, with actual figures unavailable Friday – litigation costs are exempt from the cap, should the city find itself in court.

So to are “special” consultation for open space acquisitions, the pending south end sewer LIDs, the Wyckoff property acquisition, and an ongoing project to ferret out inconsistencies in the city code.

New examiner

On another legal front, Kordonowy announced that Seattle attorney Meredith Getches has been selected as the city’s new hearing examiner.

Getches, 58, served as a hearing examiner with the city of Seattle for 13 years before resigning her position this past spring.

She was one of three applicants for the Bainbridge job, and was interviewed by a team that included Kordonowy, outgoing councilman Michael Pollock, and a local land-use attorney.

Robin Baker, who has served as examiner pro tem for about five years, was among those who applied for the job. The position has not been filled on a permanent basis since an earlier arrangement with a Seattle law firm broke down and resulted in litigation.

A contract with Getches has not yet been finalized. The examiner conducts quasi-judicial hearings on land use applications and appeals of administrative decisions.

Wednesday, the council also approved purchase of a building lot and easement for public beach access next to Schel-Chelb Estuary on Point White Drive.

The purchase from owner Gale Cool was negotiated by the city Open Space Commission. Total cost is $285,000.

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