South Beloit May Dump Its Labor Attorney

The mayor of South Beloit is considering taking over negotiations with city unions, citing slow results and large expense.

Mayor Randy Kirichkow estimates that the city has spent $320,000 on attorney’s fees in the last five years negotiating with the three city unions, which include the police officers, police sergeants and Street Department employees.

Kirichkow is ready to eliminate the city’s labor attorney, Jill Leka of Seyfarth and Shaw LLP, and negotiate directly with city employees face-to-face.

“Right now we’ve got one contract done,” Kirichkow said. “We were told by our labor attorney last fall that the sergeant’s contract would be done by the end of December and the Street Department would be done by April 1. There is no incentive for the attorneys to settle when they’re making $395 an hour. It seems senseless to continue to pay the attorney rather than just meet face-to-face and come to an agreement.”

The article caught the eye because the City of DeKalb uses the same firm. DeKalb paid Seyfarth Shaw $3183.50 in May (PDF p. 86).

This is not a reflection on the performance of this or any other outfit, just a reminder that, locally, we haven’t figured out the best way to negotiate, either. It’s something we need to talk about some more.

It also presents an opportunity to flog the notion that DeKalb pays too much for legal representation. In May we also paid a workers’ comp lawyer $2544.60 (PDF p. 100). As noted earlier this year, the city maintains a legal staff with a budget approaching half a million (down to $358,500 for FY 2011) yet still farms out a lot of legal work to specialists. The May expenditures are typical of a month when nothing too much is going on.

The City of Sycamore also hires on an as-needed, hourly basis for non-routine legal assistance but, in contrast, does not maintain its own staff of lawyers, instead contracting for routine functions (e.g., attendance at council meetings) for $72,000 per year.