Are There Legitimate Concerns Regarding New City Attorney Firm?

Filed under: City |

When discussions were held at the November 15, 2011 Duncanville City Council meeting regarding the hiring of a new legal firm to represent the city, Councilmember Scott Cannon expressed concern about two of the firms. He questioned the ethics of Brown & Hofmeister, LLP regarding issues with representing two opposing cities in the same matter, and listed other items he saw as areas for concern. He also questioned the experience level of the firm that was ultimately awarded the contract, McKamie Krueger, LLP.

Since the firm was hired, MyDuncanville.com has been contacted by citizens regarding what is perceived as a lack of experience in the area of civil service laws.

City of Duncanville police officers and firefighters are protected under the civil service laws outlined in the Local Government Code Title 5, Chapter 143.  In the United States, civil service evolved due to a practice known as the “spoils system” whereby incoming politicians would replace a large number of government workers with some of their favorites, regardless of their qualifications. Civil service is designed to eliminate that practice and established exams and standards for those applying for those protected positions.

While civil service pays particular attention to the areas of selection, promotions and compensation, it also is particularly detailed in the areas of disciplinary actions and grievances.  Civil service gives due process to the employee in these two areas and places the burden of proof on management. A failure to follow detailed procedures in an elaborate process can cause an employee to be exonerated of any allegations.

For this reason, any firm representing a city in civil service matters should have a great deal of experience in that area.

The city attorney firm would have to be able to give the best advice to both the police and fire chief as they deal with the matters concerning the running of their departments. They also give advice to the Civil Service Commission who is the first line in due process procedures and makes rulings affecting the officers, the department and the city.

I contacted Interim City Manager Jeanne Fralicks and she explained that she was not familiar with the experience of McKamie Krueger, LLP in the area of civil service laws.

MyDuncanville.com also contacted a source within the legal community and when asked if a lack of experience and expertise in Chapter 143 laws should be a  matter of concern, it was related that the lack of significant experience in Chapter 143 civil service laws could possibly lead to the giving of bad advice to the police and fire departments, as well as the Civil Service Commission. This could lead to law suits, other legal action, and overturning of the firing of bad employees on procedural grounds.

We also contacted the law firm of McKamie Krueger, LLP and Julie Fort who represented the firm at the City Council meeting and she was unavailable. However, Ms. Fort did respond to an e-mail from MyDuncanville.com regarding the question of the experience within the firm in the area of Chapter 143 civil service laws.

In her response, she stated that she believed that Mick McKamie has the most civil service experience. “Mr. McKamie served as Assistant City Attorney for Lubbock for a number of years, then City Attorney for Greenville in the 1980’s, where he was on the Texas Municipal League Civil Service Task Force.  In Boerne, as City Attorney, when the City achieved 10,000 population, he worked on civil service issues for the Police Department.  He has also represented numerous police chiefs and police departments in civil service commission matters and arbitrations, including Cities of Austin and San Antonio”

She went on to say, “Mr. Krueger (William W. Krueger III) and all lawyers at the firm handle or assist with litigation arising from civil service rules and collective bargaining agreements, including Cities of San Antonio, Bryan, Richardson and Laredo.”

In checking with those cities, MyDuncanville.com discovered the following information. San Antonio has collective bargaining and contracts with their police and fire departments and Richardson is not a Chapter 143 civil service city. Erik J. Walsh, Assistant City Manager of San Antonio, is responsible for negotiating the collective bargaining agreements with the San Antonio Police Officers Association and the San Antonio Fire Fighters Association. The City of Laredo states they are a Chapter 143 city, but a job posting on their website for a staff member with the position of Assistant City Attorney II, which one of the responsibilities is to represent the City in arbitration hearing before the American Arbitration Association and before the Firefighters’ and Police Officers’ Civil Service Commission of the City of Laredo, in matters of discipline or contract disputes.

The City of Austin shows a staff position of Labor Relations Coordinator. That position is responsible for all areas of labor contracts. The Labor Relations Office of the City of Austin shows that one of their responsibilities is to represent the city in negotiations related to wages, hours, and terms of employment with the Austin Police Association, The Austin Firefighters Association, Local 975 and the Austin/Travis County EMS Employees’ Association.

The City of Duncanville operates strictly under Local Government Code Title 5, Chapter 143 in regards to civil service. Collective bargaining is mentioned in Chapter 143 as something that is actually separate from that chapter. In fact, collective bargaining is described as a process of negotiations between employers and representatives of a unit of employees aimed at reaching agreements that regulate working conditions.

At the time this article was released MyDuncanville.com is still awaiting return phone calls from the City of Bryan and Austin concerning their status as a Chapter 143 civil service city.

Perhaps the most concerning statement from Ms. Fort’s reply is, “we are all familiar with Chapter 143 of the Local Government Code.”

While collective bargaining agreements can include items within Chapter 143, they are each unique with distinctive concerns and issues that require specific knowledge of what is contained in either the laws, or the contracts.

Is familiarity good enough for the  City of Duncanville and its citizens? That’s up to the Duncanville City Council to decide.

Read Ms. Fort’s entire response here.