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DeKalb City Council asks whether legal service switch would match current quality; TIF 3 approved

Council: Legal service switch may not match current quality; TIF 3 passes

DeKALB – The city will begin the request for proposal process to re-evaluate outside legal services in light of budget constraints regarding a $228,000 annual contract with Frieders Law LLC.

The City Council gave its consensus to City Manager Bill Nicklas, who will be heading up the proposal process over the next several weeks. Nicklas has been working to tighten a fiscal 2020 budget shortfall, and his look at legal services comes after laying off four city department heads, effective March 1.

Throughout discussion, council members indicated concern that responses to the proposal may not yield a service that could match the quality they’ve grown used to from City Attorney Dean Frieders. However, council members said they want to gauge the local market to see if there are cheaper options.

“One of the things I would be concerned with looking at an RFP is that [Frieders] does so much work for the city, and the hours he puts in are beyond what is listed [in the RFP],” 7th Ward Alderman Anthony Faivre said. “I’m concerned we are not going to have the comprehensive or quality level of service we receive today.”

According to the agenda documents, Frieders handled more than 2,000 cases in 2018, including 594 ordinance violations and several hundred traffic violations in the Circuit Court, including 771 administrative hearings. As a contractor, Frieders does not receive health or retirement benefits through the city.

Third Ward Alderwoman Joyce Stupegia echoed Faivre’s point about Frieders’ quality of service and professionalism, but admitted she wanted to see what other communities are doing.

“I have no objection to [the RFP], because one should always be aware, and [the] council should know what else is out there,” Stupegia said.

Fourth Ward Alderman Patrick Fagan cautioned city staff to look beyond the numbers when reviewing proposals.

“Whoever we pick for legal, we want to make sure we work with them, get to know them and make sure they can work with the council, city manager, staff, other taxing bodies, rather than just going out and getting numbers,” Fagan said.

Second Ward Alderman Bill Finucane suggested that Nicklas bring forward the proposals, once collected, to a future Committee of the Whole meeting for thorough and public review.

“I think that’s the only appropriate way to proceed,” Nicklas said, indicating also that money will not be the sole factor with the process. “When you’re doing an RFP for professional services, you’re looking for an indication of pricing, but that should not be the sole or most important consideration that the council will ultimately have to discuss.”

Jacobson provided historical context for why Frieders was brought into the position in the first place. Frieders was a member of Sycamore-based Mickey, Wilson, Weiler, Renzi and Andersson, a firm that the city paid $150 an hour for general legal services. Frieders left the firm in 2012 after the city wanted to pursue alternative options.

“We assumed we would see tremendous savings from [that decision],” Jacobson said. “I think it’s time that we go out and get an understanding of a) are we getting a great deal? We might be. And b) what those costs may be to see if there’s any opportunity for savings.”

Frieders did not provide comment during the discussion.

Mayor Jerry Smith said that because of the recent staffing changes, city boards and commissions will have less staff support moving forward.

“We just have to realize that we are stretched a little bit now with staff time,” Smith said.

TIF 3 is a go

DeKalb will have a third tax increment financing district after the council passed the ordinance on second reading by a 7-1 vote. Jacobson was the only no vote. The decision was quiet, with council members providing no comment before the vote.

The council also passed a series of TIF regulations known as Chapter 37, 8-0.

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