Council OKs $50K increase for legal services

By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

On Wednesday, the Ridgecrest City Council approved a $50,000 increase for Legal Services in the 2017-18 budget due to an “increase in potential litigation.” This is in addition to an increase last June from $200,000 to $285,000. The $50,000 will come out of the general fund to provide funding through the remainder of the fiscal year.

Councilmember Lindsey Stephens pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion.

“I just have a lot of concerns about how much we’ve been paying for legal fees,” said Stephens. She said nearly $60,000 was spent last year for legal fees pertaining to Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority matters in addition to a recent $7,800 bill.

“It seems like we need to closely monitor what we’ve been spending,” she said, adding that legal counsel for other IWVGA member agencies – the IWV Water District and the counties of Kern, Inyo and San Bernardino – have not been used as much as the city’s legal counsel.

“The [Groundwater Sustainability Agency] work has been higher than we expected,” said City Attorney Keith Lemieux. “We’ve been very involved in it, and it has taken more time than we might have thought. Having said that, ideally we’re at the point where we can start turning things over to the committees”

Lemieux said that the firm is “very mindful of the city’s limited budget,” and has taken measures to include as much work under the scope of the retainer fee rather than billing for additional hours.

He added that legal counsel for the IWVGA board would rotate along with the board chair, currently Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason. Because the agencies are “basically inventing a new public entity,” all of the lawyers are involved. But once the board finds its footing, Lemieux said, he may not even have to attend meetings until the city representative takes over as chair.

“There are a lot of issues with this type of entity,” said Lemieux. “We’re trying to make sure what we do is bulletproof in case it is challenged later in court. Because it’s quite possible we could end up with some level of contention with the public.”

The council unanimously improved the increase.

City Council meets next on Wednesday, May 18, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. For more information visit www.ridgecrest-ca.gov/ridge crest-city-council.

Story First Published: 2017-05-05