The City Council tonight will consider whether to continue a retainer agreement with an outside law firm for work on the City Charter that so far has cost the city at least $10,000.
In two separate resolutions, Councilman Vince V. Anello is proposing that the Council hire Weiss, Stocker & Felle at the rate of $125 an hour to seek an opinion from the state attorney general on possible illegal changes made to the charter and to complete the overdue job of combining and publishing the city's 1916 and 1988 charters.
The law firm has billed the city for $10,000 since last November for work researching how changes to the charter occurred during the codification process that has dragged on from 1988 to the present. An initial maximum authorization of $3,000 was used up in May, according to Paul D. Weiss, a partner in the firm. Council Chairwoman Connie M. Lozinsky said on Monday that she received a $10,000 bill from Weiss' firm at the end of last week for 80 hours at the $125 rate. Ms. Lozinsky said she was not certain but believed that the bill included the initial $3,000.
The Council hired Weiss last November to investigate the codification process after Anello discovered discrepancies between the original charters adopted by the voters and the newly combined and printed version that was sent to the Council for adoption. The Council refused to accept the codification because of the discrepancies.
Weiss said his firm's research turned up about 80 changes, which he presented to the Council on Sept. 2. Some were typographical errors. Others, he said, seemed designed to transfer powers of the Council to the mayor. The question of the powers and responsibilities of the two branches of government has been a continuing dispute between the Council and Mayor James C. Galie and his predecessor, Jacob A. Palillo.
Anello's resolutions do not contain deadlines nor monetary caps, but he said he expected the Council and city lawyers today to discuss the details of how much work still is needed to complete the codification, which is mandated by state law. Without a dependable codification of the City Charter, there is no definitive place to look up city laws, including zoning ordinances. There is no single place that shows whether an old law has been revised, modified or repealed.
Ms. Lozinsky said acting Corporation Counsel Timothy G. Bax told her his office would willing to look at Weiss' findings and forward them to the municipal code publishing company in Florida, with which the city has been working.
She said she was concerned about ringing up additional charges to get the codification completed. In addition to the bill for the Weiss firm's work, former Corporation Counsel Robert P. Merino said the Florida publisher's contract with the city for its part of the codification work was for $20,000. Bax could not be reached Monday evening and it could not be determined how much more it would cost the city to go through the printing process again.
"We just can't afford it. We cannot leave it open ended," Ms. Lozinsky said.
"It is startling what lawyers get paid but we're mandated by law that this work has to be completed," Anello said. "I have no problem with doing as much of the work as possible in house but I do want to point out the reason we had to go to outside counsel is that at the time we needed the work done Mr. Bax advised they had their hands full with other lawsuits and this was just an additional burden that had to be put on the back burner or contracted out. The bill went up when Mr. Weiss' office was left without any backup documents for any of those changes. Mr. Weiss' office had to issue subpoenas and no backup documents were ever provided so it took them a lot of man hours to research the changes. If we can do it in house I'll be happy to do in in house."
After a 10-month investigation, Weiss said a series of changes given to the printer, apparently by the city's law department, illegally transferred power away from the Council to the mayor. When Weiss presented his findings to the Council on Sept. 2, he recommended that the Council recommence the codification process using an outside attorney to ensure that the same problems don't arise again.