Palmetto Bay’s newly elected vice mayor tried Monday to terminate Village Attorney Eve Boutsis, who has represented the village almost since its 2002 incorporation.
Other Village Council members didn’t support Vice Mayor John DuBois’ proposal to remove Boutsis immediately. But a majority, with council members Pat Fiore and Tim Schaffer, agreed to discuss the village’s legal services on Feb. 20, including whether to interview other lawyers.
DuBois’ issues with the attorney:
• Her contract does not “define [her] scope of representation in any significant terms.”
• She charged the village $462.50, representing 2-1/2 hours at her contracted rate of $185 per hour, for time she spent with DuBois, at his request, going over billing procedures. “I don’t know of any attorney in the U.S., other than bankruptcy court cases, that will bill for a discussion of bills,” DuBois said.
• She works for the village, meaning she represents the five-member council, the village manager and staff. “It seems as though we get in a situation where the city attorney or city manager has to figure out which are the three people that make up the majority of desired actions. That’s a very difficult job for the city attorney, or city manager for that matter.”
DuBois also questioned whether the village attorney needed to work so frequently with staff. “There’s extraordinary amounts of bills for things that I believe staff should be doing,” he said.
After the meeting, Boutsis chalked up the dispute to the “growing pains of having a new council. They are not always understanding of the role of a city attorney. I think his concern is he doesn’t know everything I do that’s a function of the job. The manager runs the city, so a lot of work that winds up getting billed — contracts that need to go out, ordinances that need to be written, code compliance that needs to be handled — all those functions are being done in the 30 days between meetings.”
As with many small municipalities, Palmetto Bay employs its village attorney as an outside contractor at an hourly rate, rather than as an in-house employee. Boutsis’ billing rate is lower than the average $200-$220 industry standard.
DuBois had suggested termination with 30 days notice and giving Boutsis the opportunity to reapply for the position, along with other attorneys, so that the council could negotiate “from a position of strength.”
Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, council member Joan Lindsay, several village residents and former council members spoke in Boutsis’ defense.
“I’m really shocked at the slanted allegations that you made, your lack of experience certainly shows,” Stanczyk told DuBois. “Our attorney has represented us in a way that we have directed. … Expecting staff to work without legal cover, with the small staff we have, is not healthy for us.”
Boutsis has also been involved in Palmetto Bay’s ongoing legal battles with Palmer Trinity School and the loss of her “institutional memory” would be bad for the village at this stage, Stanczyk, Lindsay and several residents said.
When council member Pat Fiore said that two council members, Stanczyk and Lindsay, failed to heed Boutsis’ advice on dealing with Palmer Trinity and that that was why the attorney found herself in her situation Monday, Stanczyk responded, “This is retribution because we have a lawsuit by Palmer Trinity and this is a stand by people who were supported by Palmer Trinity.”
DuBois countered, “To say this is political retribution means the mayor doesn’t know me very well.”
As for the $462.50 that troubled DuBois?
At the close of the meeting, but while the mics were still audible, DuBois suggested that it would be a good move for Boutsis to remove that charge.
On Tuesday, Boutsis responded: “I probably am going to take it off, as a courtesy, because I don’t want that kind of item to create entrenchment, or bad blood. I don’t have a problem giving that professional courtesy.”
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