Former Langley council hopeful criticizes lawyer contract
December 5, 2011 · Updated 1:13 PM
Robin Adams, a former candidate for the Langley City Council and the leader of the Langley Critical Area Alliance, has asked the city council to look elsewhere for a new attorney in light of new revelations on the performance of City Attorney Grant Weed.
In a letter sent to the council Monday, Adams said he was shocked by an article in Saturday's edition of the South Whidbey Record that recounted how Weed's law firm, while under contract as city attorney, had ignored ordinances that had been sent to the city's legal team for review.
City records show Weed's office admitted to overlooking more than a dozen ordinances it had been asked to review before the legislation was approved. The firm retroactively approved the ordinances in a single batch in June 2009 — despite noting that some contained flaws — after the oversight was discovered the month before, city records show.
Adams said he was urging the city to expand its search for legal services and consider other attorneys, and said the council shouldn't "rubber stamp" the proposal for a one-year contract extension with the Snohomish-based law firm of Weed, Graafstra & Benson, Inc.
"I really think that contracts should be subject to competitive bidding. I think it's just good government, regardless of this particular contract," Adams said.
"If there was ever a case for not rubber-stamping one, this is it," he said.
Weed did not respond to a request for comment early Monday.
In the letter, and a later interview, Adams questioned the law firm's competence.
Adams recounted his own experience with the law firm last year. Adams was the spokesman for the Langley Critical Area Alliance, a group of Edgecliff residents and other concerned citizens, that had challenged the controversial Langley Passage project.
In a three-page letter to council members, Adams detailed four "serious errors" made by Weed's law firm during the review of the 20-home subdivision, which resulted in escalating attorney fees and, eventually, threats of a lawsuit from the developer of the project.
Adams said the Langley Passage review was plagued by procedural problems, and the city's lawyers unnecessarily extended hearings for the project over four months.
"At these hearings, the Weed law firm failed to ensure that the same attorney was present at each meeting. Instead different people showed up each time, some of whom had only rudimentary familiarity with the case," Adams wrote in his letter.
He also claimed that the city's attorney unethically cross-examined the city engineer during part of the hearing, and asked the official inappropriate legal questions on whether eminent domain could be granted for a private utility easement. That showed the attorney had taken a side in the case, rather than simply advising the Planning Advisory Board of the law, he claimed.
It was also a sign of incompetence, Adams added, because the state attorney general had settled the issue in an opinion issued in 2006.
"Certainly a professional attorney should know this," Adams told the Record.
"I came very, very close to a complaint to the state bar association," he added.
Another major problem in the review of Langley Passage was the number of appeals.
Contrary to the city's own regulations, Langley's legal advisors allowed more than one appeal to be filed against the proposed development. City code dictates that subsequent challenges must be pursued in superior court, but the city attorney let opponents take their case to the city council.
In his letter, Adams called the advice "incompetent or unethical."
"If the city attorney did not know that the PAB was indeed the decision-making body, then he was incompetent; if he knew the PAB was the decision-making body, then he unethically deterred LCCA [Langley Critical Area Alliance] from exercising its appeal rights to the courts," Adams said.
When the developer of Langley Passage later pointed out that the city had failed to follow its own regulations on project appeals, city officials reversed course. The council, which had earlier rejected Langley Passage, approved the new subdivision.
Adams, who works as a management consultant for CRU Strategies, a company that advises the global natural resources industry, said the council should not automatically extend the contract for the city attorney.
As a consultant for more than 40 years, he said his clients typically look around to make sure they are getting the best price or services. The city should do the same.
"That's normal. So, to me, the idea that my renewal is automatic, so to speak, is utterly, utterly foreign. It's just not what happens," he said.