The search for a new East Lansing City Attorney is moving into a new phase: Reference checks and preliminary fee discussions.
Out of six applicants who interviewed for the open positions, five will have references checked, in some capacity.
City Council seems intent on splitting the role into two jobs: municipal general counsel and 54B District Court prosecutor.
Three firms — Miller Johnson, Clark Hill and Grewal Law — are being considered just for the role of municipal legal counsel, according to Mayor Ron Bacon. Robert Easterly, an attorney with Foster Swift who is currently serving as the City’s lead prosecutor, is being considered for the prosecutorial role, independently of Foster Swift (which has not reapplied for the general counsel job). And lastly, the Giamarco, Mullins and Horton firm is being considered for both roles.
City Manager George Lahanas told Council on Jan. 25 that he will now work on checking a handful of references for the above candidates, as well as making preliminary inquiries about fee negotiation.
When City Council discussed attorney preferences at the Jan. 25 meeting, there was a clear desire to start discussing fees sooner, rather than later.
“I’d say start talking about rates. Rates is the third rail here,” Bacon said to Lahanas.
The reference checks are something Council member George Brookover pushed for at Council’s Jan. 19 meeting. Brookover, an attorney, had applied to be the City Attorney the last time the position came open and said there were no reference checks done that time around. (He’s made clear he’s not happy about that.)
After being delayed once — due to the absence of Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg from the Jan. 19 meeting because of Covid — the process of selecting who to check references on was almost pushed back once again.
That’s because Council member Dana Watson was absent from the Jan. 25 meeting, raising the question of whether Council should wait until all five members were back.
But Watson had apparently relayed her preferences to Bacon sometime before or shortly after that Council meeting. The other four Council members opted to go on, at the Jan. 25 meeting, to list their preferences then and factor in Watson’s preferences thereafter, so as to not push the process back again.
When asked by ELi on Jan. 26 about her preferred picks for City Attorney, Watson said her top two choices for municipal counsel were Grewal and Clark Hill, and her two picks for prosecution were Easterly and Giamarco.
She also expressed frustration that a handful of her Council colleagues named three top choices for each position instead of two as had been planned previously. Because of this, she pointed out that the list of six candidates they were supposed to be winnowing down was either going to be cut down to only five, or a firm with backing from at least two Council members wouldn’t be considered further. She was specifically worried about Grewal being left off, then.
“Don’t know what it will come to,” Watson said of the potential reference checks on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Bacon had listed Easterly, Giamarco, and Miller Johnson as his picks for prosecutor, and Giamarco, Grewal, and Clark Hill for municipal advice.
Council member George Brookover’s preferences were Miller Johnson, Giamarco, and Clark Hill — with the preference to have one firm fill both roles.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg highlighted Easterly for prosecution, and for the municipal side she named the same three firms as Brookover.
Council member Lisa Babcock wanted Easterly for prosecutor — she was impressed with Giamarco for that but worried there wouldn’t be the necessary dedication of resources and time — and Miller Johnson and Giamarco for municipal advice.
Lahanas indicated he will come back before Council at their next meeting on Feb. 8 with feedback from references and additional information about rates and negotiations.