LARGO — Alan Zimmet has been Largo's city attorney for 13 years.
He is well compensated, earning an annual retainer of $119,000 to work part time for Largo. The city also pays his law firm more than $200,000 a year for other legal work.
Zimmet hasn't asked for a raise for three years, and he's not asking for one next year either. However, he is asking for an increase in his law firm's hourly rate.
The City Commission voted unanimously for the pay increase last week. Although Zimmet's value has been questioned by critics on the Largo commission in previous years, the current seven commissioners believe the work of Zimmet and his firm is worth it.
"He's done an outstanding job this year," City Manager Mac Craig told commissioners. "His legal fees that have been charged — we get a lot of noise about the actual cost of it. The legal fees charged by his firm have come in under budget in 2011, 2012 and in 2013. We have budgeted the same amount each year, and he does not come anywhere near the full amount."
For Largo, Zimmet does the general work of a city attorney, handling legal inquiries from city staffers and commissioners, and reviewing and drafting ordinances and contracts. His firm is also paid an hourly rate for working on litigation and administrative hearings.
The commission agreed to raise the firm's hourly rate to $180 for attorneys, $115 for paralegals and $120 for law clerks, beginning Oct. 1. Based on recent history, Zimmet estimated this would cost the city roughly $26,000 more per year if the amount of litigation holds steady.
He's also asking that the rates be raised the following fiscal year to $190 for attorneys, $130 for paralegals and $140 for law clerks. That would match what the law firm currently charges the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Zimmet is the attorney for the PSTA, Largo and Safety Harbor.
Craig said Zimmet's recent accomplishments for Largo included negotiating a $562,500 settlement with a contractor and engineering firm that damaged a large underground sewage treatment tank, and winning a summary judgment against an apartment complex that could result in a $650,000 payment in lieu of taxes to the city.
Commissioners were united in their decision.
"I wholeheartedly support this. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you do," Commissioner Robert Murray told Zimmet.
"You do a nice job," Commissioner Curtis Holmes told him. "I've actually seen you in the courtroom."
Mayor Pat Gerard praised the attorney's skill in negotiating contentious issues before they turn into lawsuits.
Such a unanimous decision hasn't always been the case.
Former Commissioners Mary Gray Black and Andy Guyette criticized Zimmet while they were in office, with Black repeatedly seeking to have Zimmet's contract terminated. She felt he was overpriced. However, she was alone in seeking his dismissal.
In response to Black's arguments, city staff researched legal expenses at a number of local municipalities and other similarly sized Florida cities and found Largo's $557,400 spent in 2011 to be in the middle of the pack. Clearwater, for example, had an in-house legal staff of 11 and spent $1.8 million in 2011, while Pinellas Park had no full-time staff and spent $292,500 with three firms hired on a contractual basis.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151.