City Chooses New Law Firm

With the retirement of Lew Loren effective on August 15th, the City of Hillsdale sent out a request for qualifications and bids from law firms to replace the former City Attorney, and at Monday night's regular City Council meeting, a new firm was selected.

Background

Leading up to this decision, a special meeting was held on Tuesday the 11th, when the Council received applications from seven law firms: Marcoux Allen of Jackson, Fink & Valvo of Ann Arbor, Rusk & Horton of Jonesville, Timothy E. Dixon of Hillsdale, Kimm Burger of Hillsdale, McGraw Morris of Troy, and Shifman & Carlson of Farmington Hills.  The Council acted as a committee of the whole in conducting the search process and advising Mayor Scott Sessions in what would ultimately be his appointment to make for Council approval at the next regular meeting.

At that special meeting, councilpersons generally voiced considerations about local presence and costs.  Mayor Sessions asked the members for their first, second and third choices, and while most didn't have a third, the two firms most often named were Marcoux Allen and Fink & Valvo.

Marcoux Allen received the most first-choice recommendations.  Their bid included a service rate of $150.00 per hour with the additional note that both regular and special meetings of the City Council and the Board of Public Utilities would be billed at a flat charge of $150.00 per meeting.  According to their submission, "The firm will also send a representative to meetings of other boards or committees as requested or directed by the City Council."

Their experience includes representing "a number of governmental and quasi-governmental entities, including several large townships, several governmental service authorities, and the Economic Development Corporation of Jackson."  Current government clients include the Village of Waldron, Wright Township, Reading Township, the City of Reading and the City of Litchfield.

John Lovinger and Tom Thompson would be the primary attorneys assigned to the City of Hillsdale.

Fink & Valvo received one less first-choice recommendation than their competitor.  Their bid was a bit more complex, giving a service rate of $175.00 per hour when dealing with firm associates, $195.00 per hour when consulting firm partners, and $110.00 per hour when served by the firm's legal assistants.  Court costs and other expenses would be charged as they are incurred.  However, their submission does note that "If the City is interested in some other payment arrangement, such as flat fees for certain services, this rate proposal could be modified."

Their history includes representing municipal governments and agencies in a variety of matters ranging from motor vehicle accidents to deaths at a county jail, with experience in Circuit Court, Courts of Appeal and the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as all standard municipal matters.  Their current government clients include Lenawee County, Pittsfield Charter Township, Scio Charter Township and Superior Charter Township in Washtenaw County, the City of Chelsea Police Department, and the University of Michigan.

Andrew Fink III would be the primary attorney assigned to the City of Hillsdale.

At the conclusion of the special meeting, the Council requested that a meeting take place between each of the two leading firms and both the mayor and City Manager David Mackie.

Monday Night

At this week's regular City Council meeting, Mayor Sessions introduced the topic by stating that he and City Manager David Mackie did subsequently meet with the two leading firms as the Council requested.  The meeting with Marcoux Allen took place on Thursday the 13th, and the meeting with Fink & Valvo took place the next day.  The mayor said that both meetings went well.

Sessions continued by pointing out three key factors in his decision.

"The first one is local.  Even though Marcoux Allen is from Jackson, Michigan, they still have an established office here in Hillsdale, which I think is most important for the city.  Fink & Valvo are out of Ann Arbor, and Andrew Fink, who would be representing their law firm during meetings, did express [openness] to opening an office in Hillsdale if they were awarded the appointment."

"Secondly would be fees," he continued.  "Marcoux Allen has a basic rate for all of the City Council meetings, and Fink & Valvo was an hourly rate, which is negotiable if they were awarded the appointment.  They did not express what they would be negotiable to, only that [it would be] on being awarded the appointment."

"Third would be Council choice selection.  Marcoux Allen had three first-choice selections [and]  three second-choice selections.  Fink & Valvo had two first-choice selections and three second-choice selections.  I thought it most important for the selected law firm to have the most first-choice selections."

Sessions added, "I do want to thank all of the Hillsdale City Council for their input and their guidance through this process, as I think it's been wonderful working with the council of the whole."

"It is my recommendation that the appointment be awarded to Marcoux Allen as the next law firm to represent the City of Hillsdale."

City Manager Mackie added his own confirmation that he and the mayor had met with both firms.

"They were both very impressive and they both put their best foot forward.  I believe that either one of those firms would do a good job for the City of Hillsdale."

Mackie said that the previous annual expense for Loren's services averaged around $30,000 to $34,000, and he reiterated that with Marcoux Allen's flat rate for meetings of the Council and BPU Board, the mayor's choice would keep the city's expenses for legal services within that range.

"Fink & Valvo did indicate that they would be amenable to something like that," he said, "but we never discussed what that might be."

"Again, both firms would be very good, in my opinion, for the city, and I support the mayor's decision."

Councilperson Emily Stack-Davis asked if Fink & Valvo had made any offer to match Marcoux Allen's bid.  Mayor Sessions clarified that while he and Mackie asked the firm about such a flat rate, Fink & Valvo were not forthcoming about what they would be open to negotiating and that they merely reiterated the possibility of such a negotiation after they were appointed.

Stack-Davis also asked the mayor if he had asked Marcoux Allen about possible problems arising from their appointment, as John Lovinger serves as a public defender, and any cases involving the city in that regard would create a conflict of interest.

"We did," Sessions explained, "and that conflict of interest would go away, because the judges would go ahead and specify that they would appoint another attorney as public defender."

Councilperson Adam Stockford clarified, "So he would still be in the position, he just wouldn't get any cases that have to do with the City of Hillsdale."

"Right," Sessions confirmed.

Stack-Davis then addressed the procedure for the appointment.

"My two concerns: it sounds like both firms are willing to be local or become local, so that, for me, is in the decision.  Council being in agreement, it's your appointment, so we're going on your advice, not on the consensus vote of this council."

"Right," Sessions agreed.

"So I'll vote in favor," the councilperson continued, "because you interviewed both firms, both qualified, and I'll trust your judgment on this.  So that's what I'm voting on, not on the fact that we all agreed to a certain number one."

"No," Sessions concurred, "and it was very -- as a committee of the whole -- it was very helpful to be a part of the process."

After no further discussion was brought up on the matter, Councilperson Sally Kinney made the motion, which was seconded by Councilperson Mary Beth Bail, and the appointment was approved by a unanimous vote, 7-0; the absence being Councilperson Brian Watkins, who was excused due to being on vacation.

An article detailing the rest of the meeting is forthcoming.