ELECTION '12//OAKLAND CITY ATTORNEY | The Oakland City Attorney's Office released a mid-annual report last week showing a significant draw down on costs for outside legal council, lawsuits and claims. The report recites arguments, and lends support to, City Attorney Barbara Parker during her campaign to maintain her incumbency as City Attorney.
The report shows costs of payouts for claims and lawsuits, including settlements and judgments against the City have fallen by 50 percent in the last fiscal year that ended on June 30. The total financial decline is $6.7 million from the previous year which the report stated as “unprecedented in modern City history.” The report also claims that the cost of outside legal council also dropped by more than 40 percent, a total of $3.86 million.
“Reversing these trends is a good start, but we have more work to do. Part of the City Attorney’s job is to be a watchdog for taxpayer resources, and that includes resources in our own Office," said Parker in a press release.“I believe Oakland needs to focus all available resources on critical priorities like public safety, filling potholes, fixing infrastructure and staffing libraries. I am committed to cutting our legal bills as much as possible while still providing the absolute best legal services to the residents, businesses and taxpayers of Oakland."
Due to budget reductions over the past few years the City Attorney’s Office has dropped from $15.41 million in 2007-08 to $12.4 million in 2010-11. The staff reduction of 19 attorneys and 14 support staff positions has lead to reliance on outside counsel, according to the report.
This resulted in an increase in costs that the report claims is counter to the original budget reduction goal. By increasing caseloads, managing outside counsel contracts and in-house restructuring the Office has been able to bring down extravagant costs. Despite this the Office argues that for the long run this method of cost reduction will not be sustainable due to the outside counsel costs “skyrocketing” from $1.74 million to $6.38 million. The Office has concluded that staff reduction has cost the City more money than it has saved.
Parker has repeatedly stated this claim throughout her campaign but it has also been a point for ridicule by her campaign opponent, District 1 councilmember Jane Brunner, who has been relentless in her criticisms of the City Attorney’s Office. Brunner has said the Office has failed to cope with City's budget reductions and has not properly streamlined despite the cost savings accomplished by the City Attorney’s Office thus far. She argues for further streamlining and more support staff reduction.
During the League of Women Voter’s forum last month she argued that the city's attorneys did not need one helper per lawyer but rather one helper for every four lawyers. Although, Parker has argued that the work load has become increasingly burdensome for a staff already cut by a third. But Brunner has argued that she rather use money to hire police and get the City Attorney’s Office to work with what they have. The report, although, argues that hiring more staff attorneys will help the City “maintain and build legal expertise and save dollars that can be used for other critical services and programs.”
Last week, The Citizen, reported Brunner’s release of aggressive emails accusing Parker of “pay-to-play” politics where attorney firms that receive City contracts are also helping to fund Parker’s campaign. Parker has called this accusation “Laughable” and accused Brunner of committing similar actions concerning developers, lawyers and other special interests.
Shane Bond is a regular contributor to East Bay Citizen.