As a prelude to the upcoming city budget hearings next month, it appears the Mesquite City Council settled one issue at its meeting on Tuesday, April 9, when the councilors discussed attorney services.
Saying it had nothing to do with the City Attorney Bob Sweetin directly, Mesquite City Councilwoman Annie Black introduced a review of the agreement the city has with the law firm of Davison Van Cleve PC. Sweetin is technically an employee of the law firm.
Under the agreement signed in 2018, the city pays Davison Van Cleve $200,000 annually for Sweetin’s services and for the services of other attorneys in his firm, as needed. In addition, the city pays him directly an annual salary of $5,000 and benefits of $15,000 for a total of $20,000 per year.
Earlier in the council meeting, Black asked to have the agenda item pulled because she was still gathering information about the issue. Councilman Brian Wursten pushed back and demanded the item remain on the agenda.
The city previously paid Sweetin $170,000 a year in pay and benefits when he was a direct city employee. Black questioned why the city was paying $50,000 more under the new arrangement while sharing the attorney with the law firm.
“Now we also need another part-time deputy city attorney,” Black said. “That’s another $30,000.”
Black explained that in years past, the city had a primary attorney and a deputy attorney. Sweetin assumed both positions several years ago. “Now, with part-time attorneys, interns and the victim’s advocate, we’re up to seven employees. Now we’re up to $630,364 in this year’s budget. All I asked a week ago is why? Why are we doing this?”
Black referred to the contract language in which Sweetin agreed to returning full-time to the city attorney’s office if the council felt the arrangement was not working well.
Wursten said that under the Davison Van Cleve agreement, “the city now has access to five attorneys who each have a specialty the city can rely upon instead of just one attorney.” He also said bringing in a full-time deputy attorney would cost about $130,000 on top of the salary and benefit costs of a full-time primary attorney. “Now you’re talking about over $300,000 as opposed to just over $200,000 now,” Wursten said.
Wursten also said the city has saved more than $100,000 a year by not having to bring in outside counsel for particular legal proceedings.
Sweetin defended the Davison Van Cleve contract saying that he spent the majority of his time in his city hall office but that there were times when he had to travel for the firm’s business to other locations. He explained that the $200,000 contract cost is a flat fee and doesn’t depend on the number of hours he works.
He said that in the year prior to the new arrangement the city spent $73,093 for outside counsel services compared to less than $1,000 the year after the contract took effect.
Sweetin said that two positions in his office, the victim crime advocate and the domestic violence advocate, are being paid by grant money. He pegged the cost of a primary and deputy attorney at $298,334 a year in salaries and benefits plus the additional cost of any outside counsel.
“I submit that this arrangement has been good for the city,” Sweetin said.
Ultimately, the council decided to continue the attorney services contract as currently written.