Selah City Hall

Selah City Hall.

Starting April 1, D.R. “Rob” Case will be Selah’s full-time city attorney.

City Council members voted 5-2 Tuesday to approve a $160,000 contract with Case to serve as the full-time legal counsel for the city, while giving him time to wrap up his private legal practice. Council members Suzanne Vargas and Russel Carlson cast the dissenting votes, expressing concerns about the pay and the lack of competitive process in selecting him.

It was the second time the council was asked to consider the contract, which was sent back for adjustments on severance pay and setting conditions under which Case could work on behalf of his former clients.

City Administrator Don Wayman said Case’s recent legal work for the city demonstrated the value of making him a full-time employee with the city. Case also represents Wayman in a personal matter.

“He has more than justified the request to bring him to a full-time status,” Wayman said.

After the meeting, Vargas said the salary was proposed without looking at similar contracts in Eastern Washington cities close in size to Selah. In her own research, she said municipal attorneys’ pay varied from $55,000 to $101,000.

She called the $160,000 salary “outrageous” and unjustified.

“I think it has been a really hard year for some people, and we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we have the best bang for the buck,” Vargas said. “And we don’t have the best comparables.”

She and Carlson also objected to the position not being publicly advertised.

Wayman earlier defended that action by pointing out that Case was hired through a competitive process for the part-time position, and his contract contained a provision that would allow the city to offer him a full-time position if city officials were satisfied with his performance.

But Carlson said the position should have been advertised since the job description and salary were changed.

“You change the parameters of the compensation, you get a different pool of applicants,” Carlson said. “You open up for opportunities.”

He said that wouldn’t have precluded the city hiring Case, but would have allowed the city to consider other attorneys as well.

Case, an attorney with the Yakima firm of Larson Berg & Perkins, was hired as a part-time city attorney in September 2019, replacing Bob Noe, who left to take a position as Yakima School District’s in-house attorney. Council members rejected a proposal in July 2019 to make Noe a full-time attorney with a $132,000 salary.

Case’s original $108,000 contract was boosted to $120,000 a year in August, with Mayor Sherry Raymond having to break a tie vote on the council.

Council members voted 4-3 in December to approve the $16.8 million budget, which included $160,000 a year for a full-time city attorney.

But the council balked at its Feb. 9 meeting when presented with Case’s full-time contract. Among the sticking points for council members were granting Case six months’ salary as severance if he were fired “without cause” anytime before 2031, and a provision allowing Case to continue working with clients from his Yakima law practice.

Council members pointed out that police Chief Dan Christman’s severance package granted him six months’ pay during a five-year period.

The revised contract modifies Case’s severance package, Wayman said, limiting his severance to three months of pay in the first four years, going up to six months in the fifth year. In subsequent years, the council would vote on whether to continue offering the severance package.

But Carlson questioned whether a vote against the severance package in any particular year would end further discussion on the matter.

“If we come back and say not to do it in 2026, do we will have to come back in 2027 or 2028 and do it?” Carlson asked.

“According to the contract, that is what we have to do,” Wayman said.

As for his former clients, Case will have to give an annual report on the status of lawsuits he was handling for his private clients, as well as to wrap up his business with clients who were not engaged in lawsuits by August 2022.

Among Case’s current private clients is Wayman, whom Case is representing in a defamation suit involving allegations of misconduct when Wayman was a JROTC instructor in Texas.

Case, as a private individual, has also filed his own defamation lawsuits against two Black Lives Matter supporters who accused him of stalking a teenage girl. Case has also filed a lawsuit against an anonymous individual who created a Facebook Page that contains satirical postings about Case.

Carlson asked for assurance that Case would still put in his 40 hours a week for the city, even with his “moonlighting” with other clients.

Raymond said Case will put in the time, and he will have to report his hours to the city.

Vargas said after the meeting that the idea of a full-time attorney was to have someone who would devote their full attention to the city’s legal affairs, “and we should expect that for the price we are paying.”

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com.