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Posted: 04/17/13

Village trustees disagree
over attorney retainer fee

Observer Staff Writer
      A vote by village trustees failed to re-appoint a number of individuals after disagreements arose about what Romeo pays its legal counsel.
       The Board of Trustees voted 3-4 on April 15 on making annual appointments after having discussions about examining its contract with Village Attorney Mark Clark. Trustees Mike Cregar, Matt Edwards, Bob Hart and Christine Malzahn were the opposing votes.
       The annual appointments include positions like village attorney, police chief, village administrator, building inspector and members of boards like the Planning Commission and Historic District Commission. All appointees will remain in their positions until new appointments are approved by a board vote.
       With budget talks scheduled in May and annual appointments on the agenda, Hart said he wanted to examine Clark's contract with the village. He said Clark charges $100 an hour to Richmond for a retainer fee, so he wanted to see if Romeo could have its rate lowered from $125 an hour.
       Hart said he had no problems with Clark's performance, but with a potential loss of $800,000 in personal property tax revenue in the near future, he believed it was time to examine the contract.
       "Five years ago I don't think it was as much of an issue financially," Hart said. "What we're facing, I think we should be looking at everything."
       Malzahn agreed, saying the village needs to look at ways of retaining its services while dealing with cutting costs due to the potential revenue loss.
       "It has to come from somewhere," she said.
       Clark, who has represented Romeo for 28 years, said the difference in rates comes from his obtaining Romeo as a client before Richmond. He said he understands the village wanting to be fiscally conservative, but wouldn't negotiate against himself.
       "You are not going to balance the budget on my back," he said. "I wish I was making the kind of money where you could, because if I was that would be a good thing."
       He said he wouldn't consider the $100 per-hour figure, adding that he hasn't increased his fees since 2006 and was last paid $100 an hour by the village in 2000. He said he could bill at $100 an hour for all his services in lieu of the retainer fee.
       "The retainer covers a wider array of things where I don't bill separately," he said. "I believe you're getting value for what you're paying me."
       Hart said another issue was that he wanted to see Clark's billing broken down into retainer, prosecution and general services. Clark said the information is available as a matter of public record.
       Village President Mike Lee said that Clark was a great attorney, and wondered if there was a "hidden agenda" in asking about examining Clark's contract since it was brought up in past budget talks.
       "He's a great value, has a complete knowledge of this village, the history of the litigations that happened in this village," he said.
       Trustee Russell Rinke agreed Clark was valuable, but said he also appreciated that trustees were bringing information forward. He suggested the board find out what other municipal attorneys are paid as well as for how long those attorneys worked with their respective clients.
       "You're trying to compare apples to apples," Rinke said.

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