Wednesday, November 25, 2020

EL City Council approves City Attorney replacement, renews City Manager's contract

September 24, 2020
<p>Mayor Aaron Stephens at the July 16 East Lansing City Council meeting.</p><p></p>

Mayor Aaron Stephens at the July 16 East Lansing City Council meeting.

Photo by Junyao Li | The State News

East Lansing City council members voted unanimously Tuesday to officially replace the current city attorney, Tom Yeadon, with a representative from Foster Swift Law Firm. City Manager George Lahanas's contract was also approved unanimously.

The replacement of Yeadon's contract comes after it was terminated effective Oct. 1, during a council meeting back in July with a 3-2 vote. The nearly split decision led to the resignation of then-Mayor Ruth Beier and former councilmember Mark Meadows.

Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC Law Firm was chosen to become the new city attorney on Sept. 3 in principle but needed to finalize the contract that was approved Tuesday evening. The firm was one of four finalists interviewed on Sept. 3 during a special meeting where all four candidates were interviewed for 45 minutes each. The other candidates were Clark Hill PLC, Rosati Schultz and George Brookover. 

"We also had (the contract) reviewed by our attorney firm Keller Toma and they came back with minor changes and those were accepted by Foster Swift," Lahanas said. "It also has all the city's non-discrimination language that's required."

The contract is effective starting Oct. 1, 2020 until Sept. 30, 2021. Lahanas helped finalize the contract and it has an expense cap of $500,000 over the contract length, per the contract's language. 

The Law Firm will provide legal services, according to the contract, to the City at an hourly rate of $225.00 for partners and senior attorneys and $200.00 for associates. 

Although criminal/prosecution legal services will be provided at an hourly rate of $175.00, regardless of the seniority of the attorney performing the work. The hourly rate for bond counsel services will be negotiated between the City and the Law Firm before any bond work commences and the hourly rate for Michigan Tax Tribunal work is $250.00 for partners, $225.00 for senior attorneys and $200.00 for associates, the now approved contract states.

Founded in 1902, Foster Swift Collins & Smith, PC has operated in Michigan as a professional firm with more than 93 attorneys, its application says.

The firm, per its application for the city attorney position, has operated as a Michigan professional corporation since 1989 and has Michigan-based offices in Lansing, Southfield, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Holland and St. Joseph.

“If offered the opportunity to serve the City of East Lansing, Michael Homier, the firm’s Municipal Practice Group leader will serve as the City Attorney. Mark Koerner and the other attorneys listed in this proposal may also provide their expertise and assistance in serving the legal needs of the City,” the proposal the firm submitted in August said.

The contract also states that in addition to attorney fees, the City will also be billed for the Law Firm's expenses, which are expenditures by the Law Firm on the City’s behalf. 

Examples of expenses include copy charges, court filing fees, courier and postage fees and expert witness fees. Expenses are not counted toward the annual $500,000 attorney fee cap.

EL City Manager gets contract approved, salary remains the same

Lahanas’s new contract will last until June 30, 2024, the contract states. Lahanas was appointed City Manager in January 2012.

It will take effect on Sept. 22, 2020, and the annual salary will be $167,000 per year which is the same as the previous contract and will be paid in bi-weekly installments, the contract states. The salary is effective July 1, 2021, July 1, 2022, and July 1, 2023, and shall be increased by 1.75% each year.

“I just want to say I greatly appreciate the council's support,” Lahanas said following the contract's approval. “And I look forward to continuing to serve this council, this community and work with an excellent staff, thank you very much.”

The city, per the contract, must provide the city manager and his family with health, dental and life insurance for a period of 12 months following his last day of employment. He is also able to void the contract with a 30-day notice to the city council.

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