By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma is poised to replace the law firm that’s handled its land-use lawsuits, labor negotiations and routine legal matters for nearly two decades.
Instead of contracting with a firm, the city likely will create an in-house legal department with three attorneys and a legal assistant.
The move will provide “significant savings” over the outside contract, City Manager John Brown said.
Myers, Nave, Riback, Silver and Wilson — usually called Meyers Nave — and its attorneys have represented the city since 1994. The firm has six offices throughout the state and represents dozens of cities, counties and other local government agencies in California.
In Sonoma County, Meyers Nave handles legal services for Windsor, Healdsburg, Cloverdale and Cotati.
Eric Danly, who manages the firm’s Santa Rosa office, will likely take over as city attorney. Danly has been the city’s lead attorney through Meyers Nave since 2005, and he also serves as Cloverdale’s city attorney.
Other Sonoma County cities either have small in-house staffs or contract with other firms. Sonoma County’s legal office has 40 employees, including 30 lawyers, while Santa Rosa’s 11-person City Attorney’s Office includes seven lawyers.
“For cities about the size of Petaluma, it makes sense to make that transition,” said City Councilman Mike Healy, who is also a lawyer.
The city has discussed creating an internal legal staff on and off for years but never prioritized it. But last year, Meyers Nave became more insistent in seeking rate increases it had forsaken since 2004, Healy said.
In that time, Meyers Nave increased its rates for all of its other Sonoma County clients, Brown said, making Petaluma’s the lowest in the region.
The firm sought rate increases from Petaluma beginning four years ago, but the issue was postponed during the city’s difficult financial times. Last summer, the firm brought up the issue again, seeking increases of between 13 percent and 33 percent in various categories of legal specialty, Brown said.
Meyers Nave’s most recent proposed rate structure would cost the city almost $1.3 million a year. Last year, the city paid the firm just over $1 million.
Establishing a four-person in-house city attorney’s office would cost just under $1 million, Brown said, with ongoing costs of about $900,000 annually including salaries and benefits.
Councilman Chris Albertson has been concerned about the city’s rising legal costs for some time.
“It’s nothing against Meyers Nave,” he said. “We just couldn’t afford the rate increases.”
City leaders hold Danly in high regard, saying his presence will ease the transition and that he will retain the institutional knowledge of the city’s legal issues.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 11 English St.
(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)