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Setting the record straight on Tarpon Springs' legal bills

Another look at city's legal bills

This letter is to set the record straight regarding several misstatements made by proponents of an in-house lawyer for Tarpon Springs' city government.

They have implied that their efforts have resulted in a $75,000 reduction in this law firm's legal bills to the city of Tarpon Springs. In fact, this firm and the city manager started seeking ways to reduce the city's legal bills long before it became a campaign issue or the Budget Advisory Committee began discussing the issue. This was prompted by the firm's recognition that the city attorney's office must do its part to assist the city through these tough economic times.

Reductions in legal expenses were accomplished in a number of ways. In some instances, this firm simply did not bill the city for legal work. In a further effort to reduce the city's legal expenses, I advised the city that I would do more legal work for the city under the retainer, thereby reducing the amount of the city's legal expenses for matters that would otherwise be billed on an hourly basis.

It is true that the city has paid more in legal fees than some cities of comparable size. It is also true that the city has paid less in legal fees than some cities of comparable size. What has been lacking in the analysis of the proponents of an in-house attorney is a critical examination of the amount of legal work which these cities generated or required of their attorney.

The suggestion that I advised members of my firm to bill Tarpon Springs for internal e-mails and conferences between attorneys on billable matters but not to reflect the activity on the bill is false. As I explained in a memo to the Board of Commissioners, the e-mail in question was intended to advise firm attorneys that they were not to bill the city for internal communications on billable files. Instead, they were to bill the time to the city's monthly fixed retainer so that they could be compensated for their time from the retainer. The result is less legal fees for the city.

I look forward to working with the city to find ways to reduce its legal bills even more while maintaining the high quality of legal representation which the city receives from this firm.

James L. Yacavone III, Dunedin

Don't forget about raises for deputies

The Pinellas Board of County Commissioners has decided to use reserves to fund a wage increase for firefighter/paramedics in Pinellas County, but not sheriff's deputies. The firefighter/paramedics fully deserve it, but what about the Pinellas County deputies who put their lives on the line every day? Courageous individuals who make equal sacrifices should be treated fairly and receive equal wage increases.

Pinellas County is the most densely populated county in the state, and yet the sheriff has been forced to cut hundreds of jobs since 2008. These cuts were made in hopes of contributing to budget reduction. The officers' last wage increase was nominal at best, and as we look to the future, there is no anticipated wage increase. The sheriff continues to explore new ways to save money so that the employees can benefit from their hard work.

Changes need to be made to address the imbalance between fund expenditures and revenues. The provisional solution of using reserves or raising taxes to fund wage increases for some public safety personnel and not others is unjustified. The firefighter/paramedics will be receiving a significant wage increase at a time when sheriff's deputies will experience a net pay decrease due to paying more out of each paycheck for health insurance.

If it is appropriate to fund a wage increase for firefighter/paramedics from reserve funds, it is appropriate to do the same for deputies. The board is failing to duly recognize the importance of the deputies' role in keeping our community safe.

Jay Vessey, Oldsmar

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Setting the record straight on Tarpon Springs' legal bills 09/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 11, 2010 10:00am]
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