If you need distortions is your argument good?

Fairmont City Councilman Tom Hawkins is presenting a distorted view to the public when it comes to whether the city should retain in-house legal counsel or contract for legal services. This is a sign of a weak argument.

Minnesota has 853 incorporated cities. Hawkins likes to point out that just 13, including Fairmont, have in-house counsel. He believes Fairmont could save a lot of money by contracting for legal help.

But think about it. Are all cities the same size with the same needs? No. They are not.

More than 600 cities have populations of fewer than 5,000 people. Think about the smaller towns in the Fairmont area. Do they have in-house legal counsel? No. It would not make sense for them. So they contract with area attorneys.

Only about 100 cities in Minnesota exceed a population of 10,000, like Fairmont. And 13 of these have in-house legal counsel. Could Hawkins make a point of this? Yes. A valid one. Is he doing that? No. He is choosing to falsely inflate his statistics.

Consider something else: How many cities would like an in-house attorney but cannot attract one? The Fairmont City Attorney makes far less than she could in private practice, and performs a wide variety of duties. These include prosecuting crimes, offering legal advice across multiple city departments, providing human resources help and tackling lawsuits filed against the city. Her pay rate is half to one-third of what a contract attorney will charge.

In 2014, the City Council and staff — including Mayor Randy Quiring, Police Chief Greg Brolsma, city administrator Mike Humpal and council members Joe Kallemeyn, Wes Clerc and Chad Askeland — thought it was a no-brainer for the city to retain in-house counsel. Clerc said the council was wasting its time even talking about it. Why? An in-house attorney is more cost-effective and offers easy access to those who need her help.

The council members may have changed since 2014, but the issue has not. It’s still a waste of time.


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