Langley balks on new contract for city attorney

LANGLEY — City officials have decided to look further afield for potential legal advice in light of new revelations over the work performance of City Attorney Grant Weed.

The city council had been poised to approve a one-year contract extension for Weed’s law firm, Weed, Graafstra & Benson, Inc., at the council meeting Monday.

Instead, the proposed contract was pulled from the agenda at the last minute, and Langley officials announced they would conduct a broad-based search for attorneys who could serve the city.

Larry Kwarsick, who will take over as mayor in January, said the city will conduct an outreach process similar to what was used to hire a hearing examiner for Langley.

In that case, the city advertised for potential consultants, conducted a staff review of the five applicants and a selection committee comprised of city officials reviewed proposals before a contract was presented to the council for approval.

“I would envision that we would do exactly the same this time,” Kwarsick said. “And I would expect that we would get equally good responses for legal services.”

The new approach followed a story in Saturday’s edition of the Record that detailed how Weed’s law firm had failed to review more than a dozen ordinances that the city council had passed into law under the assumption the legislation had undergone a prior legal review.

Documents obtained by the newspaper, however, showed that Weed had failed to review at least 15 ordinances and other documents sent to him by city officials for review. The lack of review was discovered in May 2009 after Langley’s attorneys had made an emergency quick fix to a controversial ordinance that increased the mayor’s salary to one of the highest in Washington state. Weed later signed off on the batch of ordinances all at once, according to city billing records, and admitted his lack of review on the legislation, some of which he said contained legal flaws.

It’s not known if all of the flaws in the legislation have been corrected. Weed has not returned repeated requests by the Record for comment.

Weed has been the city attorney since 2008, and his tenure has been marked by harsh assessments of his firm’s performance during the crises that have shaped Mayor Paul Samuelson’s administration in recent years.

Weed and his law firm endured withering complaints during the divisive dispute over the mayor’s salary and the ensuing allegations of wrongdoing by the mayor, largely due to the faulty ordinance that Weed’s firm helped prepare that allowed concerns to fester over the mayor’s use of vacation time while on full-time status as a city hall employee.

Other problems followed, including the city’s bungled review of the Langley Passage housing project and the contentious layoff of a public works employee that prompted a $4.5 million claim against the city and a related lawsuit that resulted in a $125,000 settlement.

Concerns have also arisen inside and outside city hall on the massive amount of legal fees assessed by Weed, Graafstra & Benson, Inc. that have exceeded the city’s budget for legal services, and the firm’s withholding of information from people filing public records requests with the city.

Council members did not talk about the proposed contract extension at their meeting Monday.

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