City commissioners voted 5-2 Tuesday night to increase City Attorney Alan Zimmet's retainer fee by 1 percent.
The increase takes Zimmet's fee from $117,837.36 to $119,015.73, while leaving his billable hour rate at $170, the same level as 2009.
Commissioners Mary Gray Black and Curtis Holmes voted against the increase, given that the city has frozen all wage increases for its other employees.
"The man wants a $1,178 a year raise, which comes out to a little over 20 bucks a week. It doesn't make any sense to me," Holmes said. "He's a highly competent lawyer. But a little over 20 a week for a man of this caliber? This is almost insulting."
Holmes wasn't advocating a bigger increase, but he wondered why the city was bothering at all with the relatively small amount.
City Manager Mac Craig said Zimmet asked for the increase to help cope with the rising cost of insurance for his firm, Zimmet, Unice and Salzman.
"The reason he asked for it is he knows there are to be no pay raises for city employees, but insurance rates have gone up for his firm. The 1 percent increase will help him with that," Craig said.
At the time of the initial agreement between Zimmet and the city in 2000, the attorney's retainer was $84,000, and his firm's billable hour rate $135.
Nearly every year since, either Zimmet's retainer or what his firm charges the city for litigating cases against the city has increased.
According to the contract, because the fees charged by Zimmet at the time were below his usual rates, the city agreed to steer all its litigation matters through his firm.
Craig said the raise was justified because of Zimmet's performance over the past year, successfully winning two suits filed against the city's Police Department and aiding in land annexation and other contract work.
"Most of these are very significant things," Craig said, "and he's done a very good job with all of them."
Dominick Tao can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 580-2951.