Take caution on outsourcing

The City Council should retain in-house City Attorney’s Office

The Chico City Council is in the midst of seeking proposals from private law firms interested in providing its services to the city, and we’d like the panel—and its newest members in particular—to take caution on moving away from employing an in-house attorney.

There have been three city attorneys over the past 35 years in Chico. This arrangement has served the city well. We understand that city leaders are still looking for ways to save money in the wake of the Great Recession. But contracting out these services should be a last resort.

That’s because over the many years our editors have covered city government, we have watched the city attorney step forward during public meetings in such a way that has very likely shielded the city, and thus taxpayers, from potential lawsuits. And we expect this proactive approach to mitigating such threats has happened countless times behind closed doors as well.

Indeed, there’s no substitute for having a legal expert available for city staff, City Council members and management at a moment’s notice. And we do not believe an outside firm, especially an out-of-town group, will be able to adequately tend to the city’s day-to-day operations via phone and email or through infrequent trips to City Hall.

The City Attorney’s Office has already shrunk in recent years; there used to be two assistant city attorneys in addition to a paralegal and a city attorney. Today, the office is down by one assistant city attorney.

We believe it’s in the best interest of the city to retain the office. Simply put, there’s too much at stake.