One week after some members of the City Council questioned the outside legal fees paid for the tax valuation case that took place for several years between the City and Exelon Power Plant, members of several City Departments said the expenditures since 2017 are not out of the ordinary. There is a need often to get attorneys specializing in unique areas of the law as many surrounding community cities have done, said City Solicitor Colleen Mejia. She also said that the notion that her department doesn’t work or farms out all of the legal issues is not correct.
“It is absolutely not true that we’re farming out all the legal work,” she said. “We work all day every day – as well as nights and week-ends. Virtually every department head in the City calls us at night and on weekends. This isn’t a 9 to 5 job. We use outside legal services to supplement and help us resolve issues we need help with. We don’t know all the aspects of the law and sometimes legal research doesn’t give you all the answers. I don’t want it to be thought by residents and taxpayers that we just sit around and do no work.”
City CFO Eric Demas said there has been a tremendous amount of change going on in the City over the last several years, and much of it has revolved around very specialized sections of the law like the power plant and the casino.
“I don’t think it’s out of line with what you might see in other communities,” he said. “Between the casino and the change in assessments, there’s been a tremendous amount of activity going on in the last five years as the City continues to grow an flourish. We have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect the residents.”
As that has happened, Mejia said it has been smarter to use outside legal services rather than to hire new staff and have to pay benefits and a pension.
“I think it has been very responsible not to hire more employees and not have more unfunded liabilities with pensions and insurance and salaries,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense. If you average out all the costs we spend, it’s still less expensive (than hiring someone).”
Both Demas and Mejia also pointed out that some fees paid to the City’s outside counsel – KP Law – actually isn’t paid by taxpayers. KP Law usually has an outside attorney present at most Zoning Board and Planning Board meetings, but some of that expense is picked up by developers.
Using the 53G accounts that can be charged to larger developers for transportation, engineering and legal services, the City is able to be reimbursed by developer dollars through those accounts for part of the KP Law fees.
Communications Chief Deanna Devaney, who is also an attorney, said in her experience working at other cities and towns, Everett outside legal fees are well-within the usual range.
“This is a common practice using outside law firms,” she said. “If we compared to other cities and towns outside Everett, I would say it’s more than comparable…I believe Everett is very reasonable as to what they have for outside legal fees.”