Juneau’s Law Department is adding staff to handle an expanding workload.
An additional attorney and administrative assistant will be hired by the end of the year, as the city’s in-house legal team takes on issues for the Juneau School District and city-owned Bartlett Regional Hospital.
City Attorney Amy Mead says it’s a good idea for one person to oversee all legal services being provided to CBJ departments and entities.
“In order to make that happen, we thought it would be best to provide those day-to-day legal services through CBJ Law,” she said.
Mead says the law department already provides legal services to other city enterprises, such as Docks and Harbors and Eaglecrest Ski Area.
She says the school district has the right to hire its own attorneys when the independently elected school board has a conflict of interest with the Juneau Assembly. And Bartlett will retain the specialized medical law services of longtime hospital attorney Dick Monkman.
But Mead says the law department will handle all other matters.
“That helps them keep their costs down and it allows me to better manage the CBJ’s risks overall,” said Mead.
The Juneau Assembly last week approved interdepartmental charges of $160,000 for the legal services. The money will be used to hire an attorney and office support person to handle the increased workload. Mead says she’s looking for people with municipal experience.
“For the most part it will be things like contract review, issues related to the procurement code, employment matters that would touch upon the law department, some litigation,” Mead said. “When either entity gets sued sometimes those are things that can be more easily handled through the law department when they don’t involve specialized knowledge.”
The expansion may require the department to move out of its current office space in the Municipal Way Building. Right now, the law department has nine full time employees and an intern for part of the year. The city is exploring whether to move the department to Sealaska Plaza, or remodel the current space to accommodate two more bodies.
CBJ Lands and Resources Manager Greg Chaney handles leases for the city and borough.
“The merit of staying in the Municipal Way building is it’s the place that we’ve been for a while, it wouldn’t take much in the way of moving. But they will have to remodel that building and it would require putting more people in the same amount of space,” Chaney said. “Moving across the street, we’d have to get the place set up with the phones, and computers, Internet service. But other than that, you can just move in. And the main advantage to the Sealaska space is it will be bigger.”
Chaney says relocating the law department also would allow the city to move Human Resources out of the basement of the Municipal Way building.
Mead says it doesn’t matter where the law department ends up.
“The only thing I know we cannot do is stay in our space as it’s currently configured,” said Mead.
Chaney presented both options to the Juneau Assembly Finance Committee last week, which asked for more information about costs. The Assembly is expected to make a decision by the time the new employees start, sometime before the end of the year.