A recent article appeared in the Star-Telegram regarding KISD’s legal fees:
Penny Benz, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the district’s law firm has been excellent, but school officials want to explore hiring a full-time employee who is a lawyer.
It would cost an estimated $150,000 for salary, benefits and an initial department budget, Benz said.
The district budgets more than $200,000 a year for legal services.
This article reminded me of an unanswered question of mine. Last Summer, I requested that the city manager put a new exhibit in the annual budget, detailing prior years’ legal costs and current-year expectations. Not only did my request go unfulfilled, but nowhere in our 350-page budget document can I deduce, infer, or even guess how much we pay in attorney’s fees.
So anyway, one day after asking our new city manager about these costs, I have the answer: The City of Keller paid $410,000 in legal fees last year.
The first question that comes to mind might be: “Why does the school district, with ten times as many employees and a budget three times as large, have legal costs that are less than half of the City of Keller’s?” Good question.
Part of the answer is that Keller has to pay for a prosecutor in its municipal court. This amounts to about $62,000. Another reason might be that Keller wrapped up two lawsuits in fiscal year 2007.
But I think another part of the answer has been an attitude of “us vs. them.” In several past instances when the city was accused of mis-, mal- or non-feasance, the city staff immediately adopted an adversarial stance, often without even consulting the city council. For instance, some of our older sewer pipes have failed, causing raw sewage to back up into people’s homes. I think the moral response to such an event is for the city to pay for the damage it caused, not “lawyering up.”*
Here’s a link to an Excel spreadsheet with the detailed costs: Attorney Fees.xls
* I fully understand that I’m asking innocent taxpayers to pay for the mistakes of the government, and I also fully understand sovereign immunity and its benefits and shortcomings. What most troubles me is that the people’s representatives were often not even consulted before sovereign immunity was applied.