By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
The hunt for a new city attorney hasn’t yielded the results some commissioners expected. And it has created an internal debate between commissioners over who to hire for the job, an in-house lawyer or an outside firm.
At a recent city commission meeting, some Delray commissioners expressed their disappointment with the list of attorneys who applied for the job.
“I think that we have a salary issue and we have a stability issue,” said Commissioner Shelly Petrolia.
She said if it were her, she wouldn’t risk leaving a job to go to a place where there has been a lot of department head turnover.
Commissioner Jordana Jarjura said no one wants to work for a divided commission because they are always going to be making one side of the dais happy and upsetting the other half.
She also said there could be concern over why tenured attorney Noel Pfeffer decided to leave the city. She said potential applicants could be thinking he couldn’t make it work, why would I apply.
“I don’t want to set someone up to fail,” she said.
To come up with a possible solution to those issues, Commissioner Mitch Katz had proposed the city looking into a hybrid-approach for the legal department. The city would hire an outside lawyer from a private firm to oversee the in-house staff. Traditionally, the city has always had an in-house city attorney.
Still, more than 50 people applied for the job. Despite concerns over the applicants, the process and some issues with the head hunter, commissioners interviewed applicants and whittled it down to two attorneys, Pam Booker and Lynn Whitfield.
Both candidates have had issues in previous places of employment. According to a TCPalm article, Booker was fired on Feb. 16 from the City of Port St. Lucie after 20 years. The article states among the reasons of her firing were: “bad legal advice, poorly executed court strategy and a lack of communications.”
Whitfield accused a Hallandale city commissioner of discrimination based on gender and race when he called for her to be fired from her job, according to a 2015 Sun Sentinel article.
During a special meeting to possibly select the new attorney, commissioners switched gears to consider hiring an outside firm.
A majority of commissioners had agreed to move ahead with hiring an in-house attorney, but during a commission meeting Petrolia challenged an outside firm that the city has hired for several legal issues to submit a quote to the city.
Attorney Jamie Cole of that firm listened and submitted an unsolicited quote for services to the city, which caused controversy during the meeting commissioners were slated to select a new attorney.
Jarjura said Petrolia “hijacked” and made a “mockery” the entire process. She said if the commission wanted to pursue an outside firm it would have opened the process up for a bid and not accept an unsolicited bid from a firm who represented the city in matters dealing with not sending contracts out to bid.
Petrolia said she had no idea the city would receive an unsolicited quote and wants to go forward with receiving bids.
“There is more than one firm out there that does jobs for cities,” she said.
Glickstein said he didn’t care for the way the entire situation evolved. He said the process has been made unfair for the finalists and didn’t want to pursue with selecting an attorney that not everyone was on board with.
“I feel we are making a very important decision from a compromised position,” he said.
Commissioner Al Jacquet was absent and Commissioner Katz video conferenced into the meeting.
Ultimately, commissioners agreed to put out a request for bids to see what types of firms and offers the city receives.
Commissioners asked Pfeffer to help with the process and to stay on board hourly as a transition is made.
Pfeffer will be out of the office most of the month, so it is unclear how long it will take before his replacement is hired.
By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor