The Dalles The City of The Dalles has postponed hiring a new employee to assist with legal matters and economic development projects until further research can be done.
On Monday, the city council heard opposition from its contract prosecutor, a public defender and a forensic specialist before tabling the proposal by Nolan Young, city manager.
“We’re getting the message that we need to have some more information on this,” said Mayor Steve Lawrence after hearing their testimony. “It seems to me that postponing [the decision] at this time is the right thing to do.”
Although Young crafted the job description for the new position to match the qualifications of Garrett Chrostek, the current administrative fellow, he has taken a job with a law firm in Bend.
Young wants to find another candidate with a law degree and a master’s in administration. He believes that by paring back the intern program from 12 to four months — reducing the cost of wages from $44,992 to $11,383 — and eliminating the $39,600 contract for prosecutorial services, the city would come out ahead with the new employee.
That worker would relieve some of Young’s and City Attorney Gene Parker’s workload, at $67,000 for annual salary and benefits.
“We are creating efficiencies with this new dual position, because it will free up the city attorney and I to work on more complex issues,” said Young.
Kevin Hashizume, who has contracted to prosecute city cases for the past five years, told the council June 10 that he was disappointed to not have been considered for the position — or even consulted — by Young or Parker.
He earns about $3,300 per month handling municipal court cases at $45 per hour and said that fee doesn’t include the unpaid time he voluntarily puts into the job. For example, he regularly meets with police officers during their night work hours so that department doesn’t have to pay them overtime to prepare for a court case during the day. In addition, he said the city did not pay his legal dues or admission to conferences and other training programs.
“I’m trying to be cost effective,” said Hashizume. “This might have seemed like a very good budget idea, but it wasn’t looked at from a full perspective.”
Les Tibbetts, owner of Northwest Forensics Associates, Inc., enforces drug and alcohol treatment prohibitions for inmates that have been set in place by Wasco County courts. He told the council that he had researched wage and benefit packages in both fields that Young sought to meld into one job. He said, based on that research, it was likely to cost much more for the position than the city manager had estimated. He said fees for that individual to maintain his legal credentials and participate in training programs would drive up expenses.
“Why not look at contracting as a way the city reduces its liability and its costs? With a contracted prosecutor, you don’t have to pay retirement and other costs associated with an employee,” he said.
Jim Mason, who provides defense services for offenders, said America’s justice system was set up to be adversarial but involved a negotiation process. He said it was common practice to work out an agreement that saved trial costs and still provided justice for the victim and rehabilitation opportunities for the accused. He said there was a tendency of new prosecutors to “want to get in the ring and try cases” that might upset the equilibrium of the system and result in higher costs for the city.
Young said Parker would continue to take the lead on prosecuting legal matters before the court. He would be assisted with research and preparation of legal documents by the new employee, who would also oversee the Code Enforcement program.
For the past couple of years, Julie Krueger, city clerk and general services director, has been handling code violation issues because Parker has been too busy with other business.
Parker has been spending, said Young, an average of 180 hours per month at the office, which includes seven hours per week on court-related duties. He is tasked with reviewing and signing criminal complaints, appearing in court for the initial arraignment of defendants, negotiating plea agreements with defense attorneys and working with crime victims’ advocates on misdemeanor and violation cases.
In addition, he prepares legal documents for planning and economic development projects, such as proposed expansion of the Urban Growth Boundary, the construction of a marine terminal, development of the Sunshine Flour Mill site and the Brewery Grade intersection.
Young also wants the new employee to assist himself and Dan Durow, economic development specialist, with urban renewal projects and promotional activities. The person hired for the position would also write grants, manage awarded funds and develop administrative programs and policies. To save money on administrative costs, he or she would be required to do the majority of their own clerical work.
Councilor Dan Spatz suggested that outside agencies, such as the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District, be called upon to help with economic development work. Young said it would be more efficient to have those duties stay within the administrative branch of local government.