Huntington Beach: Outsourcing City Attorney Services Not a Good Idea

It’s a small victory in the fight against the myth that outsourcing critical services is a panacea for municipal budget woes, but a victory none the less. On Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council decided against moving forward with a proposal to outsource the staff of the City Attorney’s office.

Earlier this year, the city sent out a request for proposals to provide staff for the City Attorney’s office. While Huntington Beach has an elected City Attorney, the proposed plan would hire an outside firm to perform the work of that office, supposedly saving about $150,000 annually. The forcasted savings did ot account for possible additional costs that could be easily tacked on to the bill.

In addition to the reality that the savings forecast were minimal, an opinion from an outside attorney told the city that the plan would probably result in a lawsuit and that the city would likely loose the case.

Joe Shaw

The proposal also was sharply criticized by Councilman Joe Shaw, for the proposed selection of the law firm Best, Best & Krieger as the contractor. This is the same firm that advised the City of Bell.

“I can safely say that the voters of the city will not take kindly to outsourcing of the City Attorney’s Office … and hiring the attorneys of Bell to take her place,” said Councilman Joe Shaw. “Incredible. And they call me irrational.”

Citing political motivations behind the outsourcing proposal, Councilman Shaw said:

“It’s clear to me that we’re using (reasons) other than budgetary reasons for the city attorney.” We’ve been dealing with it for a long time.”

Huntington Beach is a charter city and has the ability to outsource any city jobs it chooses. The fact that the council, before Monday’s decision, sat on the brink of making a bad decision for political reasons, highlights the risks for cities that may consider becoming charter cities. In a charter city it is very easy for business decisions to become political decisions.

Luckily for the residents of Huntington Beach, calmer and more rational political heads prevailed.

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