East Lansing City Council voted on Tuesday night to enter into contract negotiations with two different law firms to fill the City Attorney position that will now be split into two roles: municipal counsel and prosecutor in 54B District Court.
City Council voted unanimously in favor of negotiating a contract with the Giamarco, Mullins and Horton firm to fill the role of municipal counsel. And in a 4-1 vote — with Council member George Brookover casting the lone “no” vote — Council voted to negotiate a contract with Robert Easterly to be the City’s prosecutor. Easterly, an attorney with Foster Swift, is already the City’s main prosecutor, but is now seemingly in line to fill the role as an independent attorney.
Council delegated the negotiating duties to City Manager George Lahanas, who will come back to Council for final approval on the respective contracts after negotiations. Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg and Council member Dana Watson led the renegotiation process with Foster Swift, but both expressed the desire to give that job to Lahanas in this instance, citing his experience in human resources and with contract negotiations.
When making selections on Tuesday, Council collectively decided to focus on one position, then the next, starting with the prosecutor.
Among prosecutor candidates, Easterly was the clear front runner for four members of Council.
Keeping in line with her previous comments, Council member Lisa Babcock quickly moved to pick Easterly for the prosecution contract. Gregg seconded the motion.
At this point Brookover stated his opposition. He didn’t have any issue with hiring Easterly, but said he’d prefer to have the roles consolidated under one firm — he didn’t indicate whether he would still be amenable to a split contract to clearly delineate duties. Brookover’s main contention here was that working with one entity, rather than two, would be more efficient.
Mayor Ron Bacon responded, and said prior to signing the contract with Foster Swift, he’d have agreed with Brookover. But, after more than a year working with Foster Swift, Bacon said his tune has changed and he’d like to have two firms on board, each with their specific role.
“I did feel a bit, through that process [of having a single firm], that it led to some things outside of law and firm politics bleeding into City business that were really outside of the needs of a municipality,” Bacon said. “I thought that it kind of, at times, complicated some of the work that we were doing. That’s just my personal opinion.”
Council member Dana Watson also expressed her support for Easterly and Brookover was ultimately outvoted, 4-1.
While Brookover couldn’t sway Council to go for a one-stop-shop City Attorney, he did successfully push for Giamarco to be the choice for municipal counsel.
In discussing which firm to select for the municipal contract, it became clear that three firms — Giamarco, Miller Johnson, and Grewal Law — were in the mix.
Watson, who missed the previous meeting where Council members named their top choices for the purposes of winnowing down the field, said she liked Grewal as her first pick. Prior to Watson’s absence, Gregg had missed the previous meeting, causing the process to be delayed. Watson did say her second choice was Giamarco.
There was also significant support for Miller Johnson, but the main holdup was the hourly price for the preferred attorney — Richard Cherry at $270 an hour.
By contrast, Giamarco is charging half as much hourly: $135. This was a main point in Brookover’s pitch for the firm. Another point was the firm’s planned move to offices in Lansing.
“I suspect what we’re seeing in the bidding is them wanting our business,” Brookover said, adding emphasis on the last three words. “I mean, all the firms want our business, but that is a really good bid, they have an office in town, they’re going to have people here … I just think the combination of variables with them is very, very good.”
Brookover said if Miller Johnson came in with a bid at that cost, he’d be all in favor of going with them.
“I don’t want to be a cheerleader,” Brookover said. “I’m just trying to give you the benefit of some of my thinking.”
He also said he was “astonished” that Giamarco wanted the work in the first place and that they bid it at the price they did.
Brookover’s argument was apparently persuasive, as Watson said after that she was in favor of going ahead with Giamarco. As, evidently, were the rest of the members of Council, who unanimously approved Lahanas to negotiate a contract with the Giamarco firm.