Hard to see a bargain in city’s legal revamping

Martin County Attorney Terry Viesselman is an able professional who has been carrying out the duties of his office for many years. We trust him when he says his office can assume the role of prosecutor for the city of Fairmont without too much stress. That was the essence of his message to county commissioners Tuesday.

Whether Fairmont is going to end up with a financial bargain or ideal staffing remains to be seen. Viesselman has reached a deal with the city in which it will pay his office $150 per hour for his services. (The contract is for six months, at this point.)

If you get out your calculator, you will see that $150 multiplied by, say, 10 hours per week is $78,000 per year. At 15 hours per week, the figure is $117,000. At 20 hours per week, it’s $156,000. And that’s where things really get interesting.

In 2018, the city of Fairmont paid $142,691 total for its legal services. Or $68.60 per hour. And it is worth noting that Viesselman’s office will only be carrying out a portion of the duties that fell under the auspices of the City Attorney’s Office. His office, for instance, will not be available to city staff — or city residents, for that matter — to answer a whole host of questions they may have related to city rules, regulations and operations. If the city gets sued for any reason, Viesselman will not be handling it.

Several weeks ago, a majority on the City Council — Tom Hawkins, Randy Lubenow and Ruth Cyphers — made the decision to push for the City Attorney’s ouster. Their reasons have included no reasons they would share, or to save money, or to improve economic development, or something. None of which make sense.

As the city now also tries to line up legal representation for all purposes besides handling criminal cases, we have to wonder how many law firms are going to be interested in working with this council, what they will charge and how much the city’s total legal bill will end up being.

We also cannot help but remember the harsh hidden costs of throwing away the expertise and synergy that were present at City Hall until recently. For what?