BRAD MALAMUD, San Juan Capistrano, and LAURA FERGUSON, former San Clemente councilmember
Later this month, the City Council will decide whether or not to replace its city attorney, Scott Smith of Best, Best & Krieger, after eight years of contracting with the city.
After then-Councilmember Ferguson, and Councilmembers Knoblock and James supported issuing a Request for Proposal for city attorney services late last year, the city received nine bids to provide city attorney services, which also included BB&K.
Last month, the bids were made available to the public, and BB&K is the only firm asking for more than $25,000 per month for retainer services. BB&K’s $42,323 proposed monthly retainer is two to three times more than most of the other law firm bids.
Five of the nine proposals have monthly retainer rates ranging from $11,776 to $20,000, and two law firms quoted only hourly rates.
In most years, BB&K’s annual total billing has averaged approximately $2 million and sometimes more. In our opinion and experience, Scott Smith and his BB&K attorneys have shown no basis for arguing it can provide better services than the other bidders to justify their high price tag. Even the City Council-initiated “audit” found that BB&K is the most expensive around.
Simply selecting any bid other than BB&K will result in a savings on retainer services of between $250,000 and $350,000 annually (approximately).
The savings that would materialize could be used to benefit the public, such as paying for maintenance repairs in town; funding park infrastructure projects; paying down the unfunded pension liabilities; or enhancing law enforcement services.
As fiduciary agents overseeing taxpayer funds, City Council has a duty to protect the public purse and minimize legal fees. Therefore, council must not agree to pay over two or three times the fees for retainer services without a complete explanation of the reason it would overpay for those services, something it cannot do and still maintain its fiduciary responsibilities to San Clemente taxpayers.