November 21, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria City Council seeks review of legal counsel costs

Holly Brinda

Holly Brinda

Scott Serazin

Scott Serazin

ELYRIA — City Council wants an outsider to tell them if Mayor Holly Brinda should have used her administrative legal counsel’s law firm to negotiate labor contracts on behalf of the city.

In 2013, Elyria law firm Stumphauzer O’Toole racked up more than $68,000 in legal fees sitting at the table as the city worked through several bargaining agreements with its employees.

Until recently, Council members said they did not know the firm was on the city payroll. They thought the work was being handled by Ken Stumphauzer, Mayor Holly Brinda’s administrative legal counsel.

Law Director Scott Serazin brought the issue to Council and said he will recommend they find an impartial person to look over the matter.

“We need to establish what happened and to do what we need to get someone affiliated with that area of law and not related in some way to the city to do the work,” he said.

The revelation that Brinda outsourced the work to Stumphauzer’s firm — he has since left and joined Walter Haverfield — has been questioned by some Council members. They have asked why Stumphauzer received a salary from the city as well as billed the city for additional hours he worked through his law firm.

“Should we have an outsider look at this? That is certainly where this is headed,” said Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward. “Our law director has raised a lot of questions that deserve answers. He is the chief legal adviser for the city and the one the charter says should interpret the charter so it’s advisable to follow his recommendation.”

Craig said he is familiar with that portion of the law because years ago former Law Director Terry Shilling asked Craig if his law firm, Brouse McDowell, could offer assistance on a construction matter. Craig said he interpreted the law to mean that even if he did not do the work, it would be a clear conflict of interest because he is an elected official that draws a salary from the city.

“That’s why when the mayor first said she wanted to hire Stumphauzer as her administrative legal counsel, the first question I had was how much work he will be giving to his law firm, because that is not something he is supposed to do,” Craig said.

Stumphauzer said case law supported using Stumphauzer O’Toole because he was not hiring the law firm. The city charter allows for additional lawyers to be hired to assist the administrative legal counsel.

The issue sparked a heated discussion Monday night because Brinda would now like to work with Stumphauzer’s new firm.

Serazin said it was just days ago when he learned Stumphauzer O’Toole received tens of thousands in compensation for work completed in 2013.

From 2011 to 2013, when Stumphauzer was partner and director of Stumphauzer O’Toole, the firm made $72,871 working for the city, with the bulk coming in 2013.

According to billing invoices from the law firm, the work was billed at a rate of $175 per hour with attorneys working on a number of issues include negotiations with local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Elyria Police Patrolmen’s Association as well as in relation to the Fair Standards Labor Act.

Several attorneys in addition to Stumphauzer are listed as having billable hours for services. Stumphauzer billed the city for work he said he completed in 2013 beyond the collective bargaining agreements. This included preparing for and attending Council meetings and reading the city’s state performance audit.

“Looking at the stuff Stumphauzer O’Toole actually billed us for is ridiculous and makes you wonder what we are actually paying him a salary to do,” Craig said.

Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, expressed similar sentiments.

“It seems he has influence over what he is going to do and not going to do,” he said. “I was under the assumption he was paid a flat fee and nothing else.”

Serazin and Stumphauzer have different opinions on whether contract work is a part of the administrative legal counsel’s job. Serazin said it is and Stumphauzer said his interpretation of the City Charter says it is not, which is why Brinda decided to outsource the work.

“It’s not uncommon to have specialized counsel at the bargaining table,” Stumphauzer said.

Stumphauzer said attorney Tom Smith, the administrative legal counsel under former Mayor Bill Grace, did not handle contract negotiations.

“Clemans and Nelson did the work,” he said.

Brinda said it was her preference not to use Clemans and Nelson.

In addition, Serazin believes Brinda should have come to Council before signing a purchase order allowing Stumphauzer O’Toole to work for the city. That would have provided full disclosure to Council members and allowed them to question if they wanted to hire Stumphauzer’s firm.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.


  • Larry

    Things like this make us think twice when asked to approve additional monies for the city. They can spend this type of money which may prove to be illegal, but can’t find money for potholes.