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LETTER: Fire fighters union protests city’s legal fees

By ThisIsReno

SUBMITTED EMAIL SENT TO MAYOR / CITY COUNCIL May 30, 2014

Dear Mayor and Council Members,

As you know, the Manager’s Office and the Firefighters Association have to come to a disagreement over legal interpretation in regard to layoffs. The appropriate venue to have this question answered is in the district court and
the firefighters have filed a petition. I was surprised to see Fischer and Phillips LLC as counsel for the City.

The council approved $150,000 to Fischer and Phillips for contract negotiations and Mr. Ricciardi, a partner with Fischer and Phillips, quickly exhausted those funds. The City Manager requested another $150,000 and, as I recall, stated that by spending another $150,000 the City stands to gain $210 million in OPEB savings. While I will not belabor the inaccuracy of that statement regarding OPEB, I will ask, was it the intention of the council to giw Fischer and Phillips LLC, carte blanche as the City labor attorney? Mr. Ricciardi is being paid in excess of $400 per hour and the council approved use of this firm for negotiations, not extraneous litigation. Is the council advocating this additional outlay of tax dollars? I would also ask, how does it benefit any outside attorney to resolve litigation which effectively stops their remuneration?

The City Attorney’s office is budgeted for approximately $3.4 million. One must ask what is the role and faith in the City Attorney’s office if outside counsel is used regularly and at great expense as labor litigation, negotiation and grievance counsel? We have already funded $300,000.00 to Fischer and Phillips, now you have committed the City to the expense of outside counsel for litigation and recent history with the bond litigation is ample evidence of the additional financial burden this will impose on the City. Additionally, Mr. Ricciardi attended all RPPA negotiation meetings as the Chief Negotiator, then at Fact Finding, brought another attorney in from his office to be counsel so that Mr. Ricciardi could testify. Did the City get billed for both attorney’s? I have never seen this model in my negotiating experience and several attorney’s I have engaged consider this an ethics violation.

Obviously as a firefighter I see this issue through colored glasses. However, as a tax payer and a stakeholder partnering with you to keep your neighborhood fire station open, I must ask if this is the best allocation of our resources. Can the council say they are enjoying approximately five times the benefit by contracting with a Las Vegas attorney? We are suffering approximately five times the expenditure compared to using City staff. The Fischer and Phillips attorney I spoke to this morning flew up from Las Vegas last night, stayed the night, was in the court room at 9 am, out of court well before 10 am and I saw him at City Hall at 11 am, I assume all this and the flight home is on the City dime?

I have enjoyed victories and endured loss from both City attorneys and private attorney’s. My contention is that suffering five times the cost is negative for all of us who want to see this city succeed. The bottom line is the attorneys employed by the City are less expensive, are competent and are stakeholders and stakeholders should be included in all discussion. Our views may differ but our goal of success for the City is congruent.

Thank you for your time,
Seth Williams

[Seth Williams is Vice Present of the Executive Board of the Reno Fire Fighters Local 731.]

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