Mayor Richard Atwell says Saanich’s decision to hire an in-house lawyer will save citizens money.
The District is hiring an in-house lawyer because it wants to reduce legal costs. “It is not a cheap business,” he said. “Lawyers aren’t cheap, their salaries aren’t cheap. But it is an essential service for the municipality and we need to find a way to reduce our costs for the taxpayers overall.”
Saanich approved the position during this year’s budget following a March 2017 report from chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson in which he identified the hiring of an in-house lawyer as a “high priority” in light of legal needs and costs, which have “increased significantly over the past number of years.”
Saanich eliminated its full-time city solicitor position in 2010 and replaced it with part-time general legal support on a contract basis. It also hired external firms.
While Saanich’s legal costs have varied significantly in recent years, they have been around $325,000, according to Kelsie McLeod, district spokesperson. The public heard during budget discussions earlier this year that legal costs during last year’s budget cycle topped $554,000.
This figure of course raises an obvious question: which legal issue(s) accounted for this figure? Atwell declined to answer that question, citing Section 14 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act dealing with legal advice. It says the “head of a public body may refuse to disclose to an applicant information that is subject to solicitor client privilege.”
Hiring an in-house lawyer will help Saanich save extra costs that occur every time the district has to bring in outside legal help, said Atwell. It also gives Saanich more flexibility, he said. Outside counsel often find themselves in court, forcing Saanich to work around their schedule, said Atwell.
“My view is that having somebody in the office, we are going to have greater access [to legal expertise] and get legal advice in a more timely fashion,” he said.
Funding for the new position would primarily come from the use of reallocated existing legal budget funds with a comparatively modest increase from taxes in 2017, according to Thorkelsson’s report.
Saanich advertised the position between June 22 and July 14 with an annual salary ranging between $138,700 and $162,150 with benefits.
According to the posting, the winning candidate will hold a bachelor of law degree (or equivalent); be a practicing member of the Law Society of British Columbia; have a minimum five years of related and relevant experience practicing municipal law in a municipality or a firm providing legal services to local government, preferably in the Province of British Columbia including three years in a management or supervisory role.