Interviews for the firms and lawyers vying to be hired as East Lansing’s City Attorney(s) will be held on Jan. 13, 2022, more than a week after they were originally scheduled to take place (Jan. 5, 2022), Mayor Ron Bacon announced on Dec. 21, at the final City Council meeting of 2021.
The delay was to allow City Council members more time to review and approve questions for the interview process, Bacon said.
The interviews will still be in roughly the same format, with each respective candidate getting roughly half an hour to answer a list of questions approved by Council. Any potential extra time will be used for follow-up questions. The scheduled timeframe for the whole process is 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Following the interviews, Council is planning to deliberate and decide on a firm to negotiate with at their Jan. 18, 2022, “discussion-only” meeting, which will now have a business agenda item requiring a vote.
The contract between the City and Foster Swift lapsed on Oct. 1, meaning the fees being charged by Foster Swift — which continues to represent the City on a month-to-month basis until replaced — are no longer constrained by the $500,000 cost cap that was in contract. Foster Swift is currently charging $225 an hour.
At this point, it does not seem likely that there will be a new City Attorney hired before February 2022, because if Council does decide on a firm on Jan. 18, 2022, there will be contract negotiations to follow.
The interview questions were also nominally discussed on Dec. 21. City Manager George Lahanas presented City Council with a list of questions, pulling the list used when City Council interviewed candidates for City Attorney in 2020 and hired the Foster Swift firm.
“I think these questions got to most of my concerns,” Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said. She added that there might be some time at the end of each interview period to ask additional questions.
There was barely any discussion on the content of the questions themselves, and Council members Dana Watson and George Brookover, an attorney who applied for the City Attorney position last time it came open, indicated they’d likely submit additional, new questions before the next City Council meeting on Jan. 11, 2022.
Watson also took a moment to point out that a question about diversity, equity, and inclusion was not included in the list, despite it being asked of applicants the last time City Council interviewed potential City Attorneys.
“I do not see the question that was asked before, about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Watson said. “And it’s really important that we get a gauge from our next attorneys as well, about where they stand on that — also, if we’re splitting up the prosecutor piece and trying to continue to move forward in different directions. So I’m not sure where that question went, but I know that question was on the list last time.”
There will likely be more extensive discussion of questions at Council’s Jan. 11 meeting, when Council finalizes what they will be asking their potential future lawyers.
And, because Council seems intent on trying to separate the City Attorney position into two distinct roles of municipal legal advisor and prosecutor — even if they hire one firm to cover both jobs — Council members discussed creating a list of questions specifically for potential prosecutors. (The City’s attorney prosecutes defendants who are charged under municipal ordinances and does so through the 54B District Court.)
Under current and previous City Attorneys, the legal services the City has received have been more monolithic — basically one entity handling everything.
Since Foster Swift was hired, some inroads to delinatiating the positions have been made, with attorney Robert Easterly working mostly on prosecutions while attorney Laura Genovich has handled the municipal legal side. Another Foster Swift attorney, Mike Homier, had originally done most of the municipal advice for the City, but the firm pivoted to Genovich.
While Foster Swift didn’t reapply for the City Attorney role, Easterly personally has put in his name to be considered for prosecutor. Based on his response to the City’s Request for Proposals (RFP), if hired, Easterly would not be working with an affiliation to Foster Swift, but would presumably continue to do the work he is already doing.
Easterly appears to be the only candidate vying for a single role (prosecutor), while the other applicants are seemingly hoping to land a contract for the full scope of legal services the City needs.
You can see more about the seven candidates/firms applying to be East Lansing’s City Attorney here.
Correction, Jan. 6: When originally published, this article stated, “The City handles prosecutions that come before the 54B District Court.” This has been corrected to reflect that the City Attorney prosecutes defendants who are charged under municipal ordinances.