Councilors weigh options for a city attorney during workshop

September 19, 2013 • Local News

City Councilors met Thursday to start weighing the options about whether hiring an in-house city attorney would be more cost-effective than continuing to contract for legal services.

The council decided last week to temporarily extend outside attorney Barbara Patterson’s contract for legal services for three months.

The contract calls for paying her firm $12,784.92 per month, plus incidentals.

The three-month extension would allow time to gather information and decide whether to hire an in-house attorney or continue contracting for legal service in the future, councilors decided.

Councilors held a workshop, inviting Mike Stone, in-house attorney for the City of Hobbs, to share h[auth] is expertise and background knowledge with them.

Roswell is currently paying $240,000 a year for outside legal services, said City Manager Larry Fry. Two attorneys are available to the city.

“We are trying to figure out exactly what the demand for the resources are,” Fry said.

“What we will do after this meeting is gather more information and take it to the Finance Committee to start reviewing that in more detail. We will start putting the numbers together to see how that factors in cost-wise, and see what is the best route to follow.”

The city is looking at hiring two attorneys at similar salaries, Fry said.

City staff will return to City Council to present options in the future, Fry told councilors.

“Tonight was primarily an opportunity to hear from Mike and get a perspective of what was happening in one of our neighboring communities.”

Stone has spent the past six years as the city attorney of Hobbs.

His department’s entire budget is $450,000 to $500,000, he said. His salary is $125,000 plus benefits, and he works with an assistant city attorney. Another attorney was just hired, he said.

Hobbs is a city of some 45,000 residents, compared to Roswell’s 48,000, and with 450 city employees. The City of Roswell employs some 600.

Deciding to hire an in-house attorney is difficult, Stone told councilors.

“It’s difficult to find a quality city attorney,” Stone said. “The skills that one develops in this area are not something one learns quickly. Lea County has been without an attorney for a year. They can’t find anybody.”

Hiring the right person also is tricky, he said.

“Don’t hire somebody that’s inexperienced,” Stone said. “There are too many pitfalls you have to deal with. You’re asking for problems.”

The pros of having an in-house attorney would be saving money on risk management issues, though, he said.

“If you got the right person, in the long run, I think the city might save some money.”

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