Bowling tries to outline how she controls outside law firms

City Attorney Lysia Bowling is fighting Councilwoman Sherri Myers’ effort to put in stricter controls over the city’s outside legal contracts. Myers wants no more open-ended contracts with lawyers and law firms; each separate legal issue should require a separate contract; and an estimated amount of cost exceeding $50,000.00 would have to come before city council.

Bowling sent the City Council a email, which she claims “ensures control, accountability and greater transparency in expenditures of funds for outside legal services.”

Sadly, the email contains a bunch of words that actually prove the opposite. She spends several paragraphs to reiterated the quarterly reporting of totals paid each outside law firm that CFO Dick Barker established the summer of 2014, a year before Bowling was hired. It should be noted that the council and public are not given the quarterly reports until two months after the quarterly period ended. Barker delivered the March 31, 2017 report in this week’s agenda packet.

The three “controls” Bowling lists aren’t really. The Florida Bar requires the firms have contracts. Her review and approval of invoices for services already rendered isn’t much of a control for her office. The quarterly reports were already in place before she was hired.

What should be the controls?

1) Specific policies and procedures for hiring outside law firms – which call for getting proposals from several qualified firms and establishing a scoring sheet for selection.
2) The contracts should list the specific cases, projects and research to be done by the firm selected.
3) The city should receive estimates for the work to be done – for instance, the City should have had an estimate on the cost of the local option gas tax appeal.

Myers is one to something here.


From: Lysia Bowling
Sent: Friday, June 2, 2017 4:07 PM
To: City Council Only
Subject: June 5, 2017 Agenda Item No. 28 – Clarification Regarding Office of City Attorney and Financial Services Department Controls and Procedures for the Acquisition of Legal Services

To: Council President Spencer and Members of City Council

From: Lysia H. Bowling, City Attorney

Date: June 3, 2017

Re: Clarification Regarding Office of City Attorney and Financial Services Department Controls and Procedures for the Acquisition of Legal Services

I have reviewed Item No. 28 to be considered for City Council approval at the June 5, 2017 Agenda Conference which proposes an amendment to Section 3-3-2 of the City Code. I am providing the following information to assist City Council in consideration of this item.

At the June 2016 City Council meeting, the City’s Chief Financial Officer provided City Council with a summary of outside legal counsel costs for FY 2006-2015. Significantly, the specific controls and procedures jointly implemented by the Office of the City Attorney and the Financial Services Department were included in the presentation.

Since the third quarter of 2014, Quarterly Financial Reports have been presented by the City Chief Financial Officer to City Council which include a Schedule of Legal Costs. This schedule specifically sets forth the name of the attorney or law firm, the amount paid fiscal year to date, and the nature of legal services provided. Each Quarterly Financial Report is made available to the public on the City website.

To provide clarification on the Legislative Action Summary of Item No. 28, there are specific controls and procedures for the acquisition of outside legal services. The following specific controls and procedures have been operative for the past four years:

· Outside legal services acquired through written contracts which require the nature and scope of services and rates to be specifically delineated in the contract.
· The City Attorney’s Office reviews and approves all invoices for outside legal services prior to payment by the Financial Services Department.
· A Schedule of Legal Costs listing each outside attorney name or law firm and the amount paid is included in the Chief Financial Officer’s Quarterly Financial Report to City Council and is publicly available on the City’s website.

Therefore, in light of the Legislative Action Summary, the foregoing states the facts as they relate to the current process and the roles of the Office of the City Attorney and Chief Financial Officer. To confirm, there is an established oversight process for procurement of outside legal services which regulates and administers specific controls and procedures for the acquisition of outside legal services. This process ensures control, accountability and greater transparency in expenditures of funds for outside legal services.

Thank you,

Lysia H. Bowling
City Attorney

222 W. Main Street
Pensacola, Florida 32502
E-mail lbowling@cityofpensacola.com

 

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2 thoughts on “Bowling tries to outline how she controls outside law firms

  1. As an ironic twist, when Bowling was meeting with Council members to get their support to be confirmed into office, Bowling reportedly expressed her exasperation to Myers about the runaway outside legal costs of the city and the City Attorney’s diminished role. If the City Council cannot pass Agenda Item 28 with a veto proof majority, another option is to let voters decide in the form of a charter amendment. Better yet, such a charter amendment could give the City Council a power to remove the City Attorney from office with a supermajority. It could also require that every agenda item be accompanied by a formal legal memorandum. For example, I reviewed one agenda item on today’s agenda that violates three provisions of the same state law. When Myers spoke with Wilkin’s yesterday, he said he didn’t really understand what was being done and neither did anyone involved to include Rebecca Ferguson. The agenda package contained a memo from the City Attorney dated April 20, 2016 – “2016” – that misstated a key legal fact presumably the result of slopping legal work. Another charter amendment idea would be to have the City Council appoint and dismiss the City Attorney, the way things are done in most cities in Florida.

  2. At a salary of $154,000 p/year, she should be able to provide “competent” legal representation. To date, she has provided incompetent legal opinions and no litigation services in a very litigious administration. Furthermore, she has provided advice to the mayor that has led to many losing cases for the city, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars.

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