Man on an island: Mayor Stephen Cassidy, left.
The discussion during Tuesday’s night council meeting ended with entire council voicing strong support for Meyers Nave, except Mayor Stephen Cassidy who preferred a deeper look at going in-house or putting a bid out for competing firms to offer their own contracts. No vote was made during this discussion item.
“I would look beyond option one. We are not the main consumer of legal services here, we should be talking to the department heads,” said Cassidy. “I think there is a benefit for in-house because we don’t have to worry about the result of a fee or charge, we lose that under the current model,” and “I think it is a mistake if we are to look at this contract and not put it out for a bid.”
Cassidy’s push for an examination at other options was accompanied by no other other reason than financial or the convenience of having an in-house attorney stationed in city hall. But it is rumored, albeit without solid evidence, that perhaps going in-house would provide Cassidy with more oversight and influence. The belief likely stems from critics over the first two years of his term, who describe Cassidy as relentlessly uncompromising. The rest of the council appreciated Meyers Nave’s institutional knowledge because of their two and a half decade relationship with the city.
The founder of Meyers Nave, Steven Meyers, was an in-house attorney for San Leandro in 1985 but after being lured by other city’s for his professional help he went private and established a contract with San Leandro. Because of Meyers Nave’s long term institutional knowledge the city has retained the contract. In the meantime, Meyers Nave expanded their reach to 23 cities, including many in the East Bay, providing a city attorney or other legal services.
A sticking point during Tuesday’s discussion was the payment method between the city and Meyers Nave. Currently the city operates with Meyers Nave on a retainer, plus additional services rate, rather than an hourly rate, also known as a market-based fee. Chris Zapata, San Leandro's city manager, told The Citizen that Meyers Nave is not happy with the current payment method because they claim they are working more than what they are paid for within the retainer. Currently the rate is at $28,000 a month.
Also, Zapata said that the convenience of having an in-house city attorney isn't a major issue because Meyers Nave is available by phone every day of the week.
Currently, a contract with Meyers Nave is cheaper than going in-house. The projected sum of Meyers Nave’s contract for this year is at $950,000, although may be subjected to higher cost depending on what litigation the city may become embroiled in, compared to an in-house cost at $1.2 million.
But this is the second consecutive mayor that Meyers Nave’s relationship with San Leandro was questioned, whether for financial or personal reasons.
Cassidy's predessor, Tony Santos, said he would have tried to drop the contract with Meyers Nave. “I planned on making it public,” said Santos, “If I had been re-elected.” According to Santos, former issues were with Jayne Williams, Meyers Nave’s city attorney for San Leandro, advising the city manager more than advising city council and making “erroneous,” statements during closed session meetings which he would not further elaborate on. Santos wanted to look at putting a bid out for competing firms to make a pitch. Santos also admitted that he had conducted his own research during his time as mayor and found that San Leandro spent less for legal services contracting with Meyers Nave than neighboring cities that were in-house.
Santos is confident his dissatisfaction with Meyers Nave is different than Cassidy’s. But Cassidy's lone opinion differing from the rest of the council has raised some suspicion.
Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor.