Village of Oak Park may outsource legal staff

Officials plan to seek proposals for work sometime in the near future


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By Marty Stempniak

Staff Reporter

Add legal work to the list of jobs that the Village of Oak Park may be outsourcing to save money.

In recent years village hall has farmed out a bevy of functions, including everything from crossing guards to street sweeping. Now, with the departure of longtime Village Attorney Ray Heise earlier this year, the legal work may be up for grabs to the lowest bidder.

"When there's an opportunity to look at doing something differently, I think we need to take a look," Trustee John Hedges said at a meeting on Monday. "Whether we change or not, I don't know."

Currently, Oak Park has a legal staff of three, which includes the assistant village attorney, a secretary and someone who manages insurance claims. In past years, village hall has had as many as three in-house lawyers.

Work for the staff includes advising elected officials on lawsuits, crafting ordinances and managing outside legal work. Wednesday Journal reported earlier this year that Oak Park spent some $800,000 on outside attorneys in 2010, along with another $500,000 on its legal staff.

Village research has found that Oak Park's legal costs are at the "top tier" of similarly sized communities, and that other comparables have been farming out some or all of their legal work.

So, Oak Park plans to send out a call to law firms in the near future, asking them to submit proposals for doing some or all of those services. The village board is expected to review that information sometime in early 2012.

Simone Boutet, the acting village attorney, urged trustees on Monday not to completely outsource the law department. She said the village attorney acts as the quarterback for all legal functions of the organization, and is constantly fielding questions from employees and the public. It's typically smaller, less complex communities — such as River Forest, Lombard and LaGrange — that completely rely on outside counsel, she added.

"You'd have to take the entire file cabinets that exist in the law department and ship them off to someone's office to become familiar with things, and somebody has to be here to quarterback all the services," she said.

Trustee Ray Johnson asked village staff to be careful not to hire an outside law firm that might end up costing more. Oak Park spent more than $200,000 per year in 2010 and 2011 on outside lawyers to negotiate union contracts, and he thinks a hiring a staffer would be cheaper. Some communities are cutting down on outside lawyers; Evanston is tripling its legal staff, Boutet said, from two to six.

"I want to make sure we look at this with a very critical eye," Johnson said. "The early analysis seems to say that we could save money by having an in-house attorney."

Reader Comments

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Posted: December 12th, 2011 10:57 AM

Lawyers are over paid.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2011 10:42 AM

Dan,Dan,Dan. How rigid of you.Dont you understand that the Village Board is looking out for your best interest.Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. I suspect a couple of months in a re education camp is needed for you, my dear lad.

Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: December 9th, 2011 4:18 PM

My hope is that the new legal team will have a better understanding of Constitutional Law, than the Peoples Republic of Oak Park's last Village Attorney. Village Attorney Ray Heise drafted a non compos mentis ordinance banning hand guns in the Peoples Republic. This law made it illegal for Village residents to exercise their rights under the Second Amerndment, to own a hand gun. Following huge outside legal fees and a Supreme Court ruling this ordiance was removed.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 9th, 2011 11:32 AM

I agree with you, Joel. There's too much risk involved with trying to get a cheap deal. The problem has been that the trustees never thought to put any of these contracts out for bid. There's enough knowledge and experience among the current trustees and in-house attorney to look at what firms can offer Oak Park and make recommendations to the full board. Keep the village manager out of it. He's not an attorney and has had enough problems with consulting contracts. If there are local lawyers interested in this work, I hope they will submit an offer.

Joel A. Schoenmeyer from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 9th, 2011 11:21 AM

I would also echo Bill's point about using local attorneys if possible. There are a lot of great lawyers in Oak Park. If we really believe the "shop local" credo, why not get them involved? (Full disclosure: I'm a lawyer, but I would never be in the running to do work for the Village -- my practice areas aren't relevant to local government.)

Joel A. Schoenmeyer from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 9th, 2011 11:18 AM

I think outsourcing makes good sense for a couple of reasons: 1. The law is becoming more and more complex, making it harder than ever to be a general practitioner. The Village needs to be able to go to an expert when an issue arises in a given area of law. 2. While I don't want to see the Village go with the "lowest bidder" (quality does matter), the current economy (and the volume of the Village's legal work) probably means the Village can strike a good deal with a firm for legal services. The current budget is 300K/year for legal "external support." That would cover a LOT of time, even for a fairly senior lawyer.


Posted: December 9th, 2011 12:16 AM

Wait a minute...seems like there's more to the story here. Ray Heise has been in house for 30 years without a peep from the Board, he retires, then VOP wants to "outsource". To who? Ray Heise? Let's find out about the lawyers VOP is currently using and their connection to the legal staff and our "consultant", Mr. Heise.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 11:28 PM

Can't say that's true. I did on one occasion split a pitcher with one of our more infamous village managers and listened to his critiquing of each of the contestants in the Miss America pageant that showing on a tv in the corner of the pub. Later asked me if I had a $20 until Friday. He proved to be not the guy for Oak Park and caused me to wonder about the executive search firm that had recommended him to the board. I hope Village Hall lost their number.

Bell = Coughlin  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 9:41 PM

They love you too Jim

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 9:27 PM

Luke, I worked at Village Hall for a number of years and can tell you that legal questions come up all the time. There are service and supply contracts that need to examined. Code enforcement issues requiring clarification. FOIA requests that have to be studied. Every department relies heavily on in-house counsel to provide direction and advice. If anything, I'd like to see more of the Law department responsibilites brought back in-house. That would mean adding staff but might be a cost effective alternative to farming it out. The trustees should actually consider outsourcing the Human Resources director position. Adminstrative staff can handle the paperwork duties while the screening, hiring and labor negotiations could be handled easily and effectively by an outside agency. Savings would be significant. Q, I don't believe a community like Oak Park would benefit from outsourcing the Village Manager position. We've been fortunate in the past to have had some really top notch and dynamic individuals handle those chores. Also true for the assistant manager position. Ralph DeSantis, J. Neil Neilson, Jim Talley and Pete Dame come to mind. Cannot say the same for the current lineup.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 8:56 PM

Why doesn't Oak Park outsource a new village manager, new president and new board members. They won't have a personal interest in everything they vote for so everything will be based on fairness to all. Let the outsourcing begin in a less expensive country for legal work. You can probably get the top lawyer in a lot of countries with the change they are paying Heise.

Luke ScottWalker from Oak Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 7:59 PM

Agree to proceed with caution, but Jim's point about a "myriad of legal ?'s that come up daily..." is precisely the problem. Not every issue is or should be so complex that a lawyer is needed. Simplify, stop supporting blatantly unconstitutional fluff, and pare down needless regulations. Bill S. is correct in that local attorney's should be engaged often, as long as there is an open bid process. If we are to be really progressive, call for rolling back all regulation.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 5:52 PM

Ray Heise lives in Oak Park and is currently receiving $45K to provide legal advice to the board. I believe that his contract was based on the idea of easing the transition process and because of his knowledge regarding pending litigation. I support Bill Sullivan's suggestion to "hire locally" whenever possible.

Bill Sullivan  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 5:44 PM

Let's hope the Village actively supports the local business community and hires some Oak Park-based attorneys. Don't know of any local lawyers (or many other professionals for that matter) currently being used by the Village. This is a great opportunity for Oak Park to reinvest tax dollars in our local economy.


Posted: December 8th, 2011 4:33 PM

I did 2

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 4:05 PM

Hey Dewey - I almost fell out of my chair when I read your post.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 3:49 PM

Proceed with caution. Village Hall needs to have an in-house attorney on staff to address the myriad of legal questions that come up on a daily basis. I believe there are three practicing lawyers currently serving as trustees. Their input along with that of the acting Village attorney will be vital to the process. Managing costs for outside counsel is an excellent idea and these services should be subject to an open bidding process. This is not decision to be delegated to the Village Manager or his underling. Leave it up to our own experts who know the which firms have the expertise and experience. Smart move!

Dewey, Cheatem & Howe  

Posted: December 8th, 2011 11:38 AM your service

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