Council opts for contracted legal services instead of hiring new city attorney

Published 6:46 am Tuesday, December 13, 2022

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After waiting two weeks to make a decision, the Albert Lea City Council on Monday opted to move forward with hiring a firm for legal services for the city instead of hiring an individual as city attorney.

City staff had been reviewing options after the resignation of former City Attorney Kelly Martinez in October.

City Manager Ian Rigg at the last meeting presented information about both options and recommended the council contract with a firm for legal services, which he said could save the city money. He also said it would be easier to change or end the service if it is not what the council or staff had hoped for than it would be to lay off an individual.

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The city has contracted with an Austin firm for services through the end of the year in the interim.

Rigg at the last meeting said after he found that all but a few cities Albert Lea’s size contract their services instead of having an in-house attorney and most spend less per capita.

The city received three proposals for contracted services, two of which included criminal prosecution, as well as direct hire applications from five individuals.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker said he had gone back and forth with his decision and said while it’s sometimes easier for people to go with what they have been used to, in the end he supported the switch to contracted services, especially with the possibility of sharing services in the future with Freeborn County.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland agreed.

He said as long as the city doesn’t lose service and there’s cost savings, the council should at least try it out.

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks said a few weeks ago he was adamant to have a direct hire but since then had talked to Rigg quite a bit and some of the other councilors about his concerns. He also weighed out the options and the potential cost savings, and in the end could support going with the contracted services.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said as the city moves forward and sees budgets get tighter, and the city would have to try harder to maintain quality of life services, he thought the city making the move could potentially save the city $150,000. If it did not work out, the city could go back to having a direct hire city attorney.

“If we can make that kind of savings on this vote, I think it makes sense for us as a community because we know the challenges are coming,” he said.

The council voted to allow Rigg to work out a contract with the winning firm based on budget.

Changes also have to be made to city code to change the legal services from a department to a contracted service. The council had the first reading of that change to the code.