SELAH — City officials will begin searching for a new attorney after Selah City Council members rejected a proposal to make longtime City Attorney Bob Noe a full-time employee.
Members voted 4-2 to reject a proposal offering Noe a $132,000 salary plus benefits, even after stripping out provisions that would have granted him permission to moonlight as the attorney for Tieton and Moxee and provided him a severance package equal to six months’ pay.
Councilmen Kevin Wickenhagen and John Tierney were the only ones to vote for the measure.
Noe was recently offered the job of in-house attorney for the Yakima School District, and City Administrator Don Wayman said the contract was an attempt to keep Noe, who has represented the city for 15 years.
“We knew it was going to be a tall task,” Wayman said. But he said it was important to try to keep an attorney he described as both a skilled litigator and an excellent legal researcher. City staff are now exploring if the city can hire an in-house attorney who can do both criminal and civil law, Wayman said.
Attempts to contact Noe for this story were not successful. Calls to his Yakima law office were not returned by press time.
Councilman Jeremy Burke questioned the salary offered to Noe — $12,000 above his contracted fee — as well as the provisions allowing him to do legal work on the side while being a full-time city employee.
“It looks like a good-old-boys contract,” Burke said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “I have spoken with three other civil employees who say that we are going to give a sweetheart agreement.”
It’s an assessment that Wayman bristled at.
“It was not a ... sweetheart deal,” Wayman said. “It irked me that it was characterized that way. We are not pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes.”
Wayman said Noe recently approached him and said that he was offered a job with the Yakima School District and the school board would be voting on it July 29. Wayman and Mayor Sherry Raymond then asked Noe what it would take for him to stay with Selah, and the contract was drawn based on Noe’s response, Wayman said.
Contrasting it with Wapato’s hiring former Mayor Juan Orozco as the city’s administrator without advertising the post, Wayman said the city was not creating a new position. Instead, he and Raymond proposed taking an existing contract position and converting it to a full-time post.
Burke was concerned about paying Noe a salary out of line for a city of about 8,000, as well as not advertising the position.
“An in-house job for civil attorneys is the gold standard,” said Burke, a deputy Yakima County prosecuting attorney. “You don’t have to fight for billables. If you have $135,000 (salary), we are going to have people apply.”
He and other council members were also concerned with allowing Noe to continue his contract work with Tieton and Moxee while being Selah’s full-time attorney. If Noe is being paid to devote his full time to Selah, he should not have time to work for other cities, Burke reasoned.
Wayman said he trusts that Noe would put Selah’s interests first in such a situation.
Also, Burke said it would not be fair to other city employees who don’t get a severance package to give a half-year’s pay to Noe if he was terminated.
With benefits added in, Noe’s full-time contract would be $56,187 more than his current contract, which was also a concern for council members. Councilman Russell Carlson said that figure was only good for this year, as medical insurance costs would push up the total compensation each subsequent year.
“I think Bob has done a phenomenal job,” Carlson said. “He deserves the respect, but I don’t think he deserves the dollar amount. I feel like it is beyond our reach.”