Crestwood board OKs fee-rate increase for city attorney

Mayor says pay raises for other city employees still on hold

By BURKE WASSON

While the city of Crestwood is operating under a salary freeze for its employees, the Board of Aldermen recently approved a fee-rate increase for its city attorney.

The board voted 6-0 earlier this month to approve legal fee increases for City Attorney Robert Golterman, who has served in that position since 2000. Ward 4 Aldermen Steve Nieder and Pat Duwe were absent from the June 13 meeting.

The city will see increases in Golterman’s retainer fees, general miscellaneous services, general litigation fees and fees for labor, annexation, bonds, pension and tax issues.

Golterman’s retainer fee jumps from $2,750 per month to $3,000 per month. His fees for general miscellaneous services rise from $205 per hour to $215 per hour. His general litigation fee rate moves from $210 per hour to $220 per hour. And Golter-man’s fees for service in labor, annexation, bonds, pension and tax issues climbs from $215 per hour to $225 per hour.

But while Golterman’s legal fees to the city were proposed and then approved to be increased, Golterman himself did not ask for the raises. His employer — the law firm of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh — asked all of its attorneys serving in municipal roles to raise their fees.

“It’s been a little over three years since the retainer number has gone up, and the last thing I want to do is get into a, you know … have to discuss fees and things,” Golterman said. “The last thing I want to do is bring an increase in fees to this board. From a firm standpoint, I’m compelled to do so. I can tell you that municipal fees are, believe it or not, significantly discounted from our regular numbers. So, it’s kind of embarrassing anyway. It’s just what’s been proposed.”

With aldermen approving the fee increases proposed by Golterman’s law firm, the city attorney said he would try to keep the total cost to the city for his legal expenses at a similar rate to past years. This essentially means that Golterman will attempt to work less hours for Crestwood next year to help offset the fee increases.

“In terms of the general services in the retainer, I will do everything in my power to make sure that there’s no increase in total dollars,” Golterman said. “If things pop up like with lawsuits and things like that, you know, there’s not a lot I can do about that. But I think if you go back over the last five or six years, the total amount paid to my firm has been remarkably consistent. And I think that has a lot to do with the fact that today I can draft an ordinance in 15 minutes that maybe took me an hour and a half when I was a brand-new city attorney. So I think that those efficiencies are there.”

Before he voted in favor of Golterman’s fee increases, Board of Aldermen President Jerry Miguel of Ward 3 questioned the logic of approving a raise for the city attorney when other city employees are not eligible for raises because of the city’s current salary freeze.

“The thing that kind of is an issue for me when I first read it is we asked our city employees to go without raises now for the last … probably about the last three years,” Miguel said. “And we’ve laid off people, reorganized departments and cut services. So you know, I really have given this some very serious considerations and I appreciate your honor’s (Mayor Roy Robinson’s) really significant endorsement. I don’t know if the city attorney has had an increase in the last two or three years. I believe he has. We have several options here. We can accept, we can reject, we can split the difference, we can put this on hold or on a month-by-month basis. I’d just like to know some of the numbers that the other members of the board are thinking.”

With respect to the salary freeze on Crestwood city employees, Robinson said he would like to offer raises to city workers, but cannot at this time because of the city’s financial constraints. The city is still working to pay off more than $3.5 million in debt and credit expenses.

“I heard somebody say that our city employees have not had a raise, and we’re very much aware of that,” Robinson said. “In fact, a lot of times, we talk about that in our discussions with the city administrator. We’re trying to look ahead and hope that our financial situation works out where we can start considering some type of cost of living for employees. But we’re not there now.”

Robinson said he fully supports a rate increase for Golterman based on his nearly six years of experience as city attorney.

He also said he wants to remind people that Golterman is not a typical city employee, but rather a necessity to keep the city running in the right direction.

“The city attorney is not a city employee,” Robinson said. “The city attorney is a service that we need to run this city. And those services cost … are not all the same as the employee who works full time for the city. You’re buying a special service and you pay for it. Most certainly, I’ve never gotten $200 an hour at anything I ever did, so I’m quite, quite impressed that somebody can get that. But that’s the way the thing’s played. And I can assure that Mr. Golterman is not taking advantage of this city. He’s probably ‘loyaler’ than a lot of the city attorneys in other cities and maybe just on par. I don’t know. It’s one of those things where I’m sure (Clayton City Attorney) Kevin O’Keefe probably gets paid more money than (Golterman). Kevin O’Keefe is an expert for running cities throughout the county. Anyway, it’s not a game. One thing people must realize is that a city attorney is not one you pick because you get the lowest bid. You have to find someone who works well with not only the mayor, but works well with the city administrator and works well with the board and who is non-political and tries to be unbiased in their opinions. And I think we’ve got one of the better city attorneys for that fact.”

Golterman added that he appreciates the confidence that Robinson has shown in him and his abilities.

Furthermore, Golterman said he believes that because of his familiarity with Crestwood and his far-reaching legal influence on city affairs, he is still the best person for the job. He mentioned that one example of this would be the value of his services over an outside legal firm.

“I think that one of the things that the mayor did was in essence to make sure that I was the person that was in charge of all legal matters,” Golterman said. “Even if I wasn’t handling a case, that I needed to be aware of what was going on. The fact that I’m out here frequently … I’m out here every other Tuesday. In the afternoon, I’m out here for meetings. I can be e-mailed, telephoned. It’s just a lot more efficient when I’m handling the matters because I’m able to keep the mayor and the city administrator advised and keep the board advised. I mean, I’m sure that there are situations in these cases where we’ve reached a settlement where the mayor nor the city administrator had contact with our outside counsel for many months at a time. So, things got kind of out of hand. So I think there’s a tremendous amount of efficiency to have everything in one central place.”

Robinson echoed those statements and said if he did not believe Golterman was the best choice to be Crestwood’s city attorney, he would simply recommend his removal.

City Administrator Frank Myers echoed Robinson’s confidence in Golterman, saying he believes Golterman is still the most capable candidate to be Crestwood’s city at-torney.

“Several aldermen have talked to me about this proposal,” Myers said. “And I think that the concern of those who’ve talked to me, and Alderman Miguel being one, is just the increased cost. As I’ve been monitoring, I’m concerned about increased costs, too. I’ve had a lot of dialogue with our city attorney regarding his past bills and also the services. And I just want to state a couple of things that I think are helpful to put this in perspective. Number one, Mr. Golterman is not asking for an increase. His firm asked all their clients for increases. So this isn’t Rob Golterman asking the city of Crestwood for an increase. His firm has asked all clients for an increase. And with him being with that firm, you know, that increase is built in …

“The second thing is Mr. Golterman has assured me … that he will keep the legal cost to the city at the same basic dollar amount that we’ve expected. So even though his costs are going to increase, he’s going to work diligently to see that the costs to us this fiscal year, which we budgeted for, do not increase. He’s made a commitment to do that.”