A sweetheart deal briefly sours

A done deal was stalled this week at Orlando City Hall, a great and celebrated man insulted by pettiness ... and the insipid character of Democracy reared its ugly visage.;;Mayor Glenda Hood Monday postponed for two weeks a council vote to hire a new city attorney after several members of the council, which ordinarily has worried not about the mayor's prerogatives, indicated their unwillingness to go along. The Orlando Sentinel's surprised take on the matter could be read in the headlines. On Saturday: "A top salary awaits likely city attorney." On Tuesday: "Orlando mayor stalls vote...".;;Such drama.;;The local paper of record reported that councilman Bruce Gordy opposed the contract's provision for $40,000 worth of secretarial and overhead costs and harbors "strong reservations" about the proposed policy of allowing the position to become part-time. That is but a part of it.;;At issue is this: W. Scott Gabrielson, a man known for selfless volunteer work, who chaired the wise and august panel that gave the mayor a teen curfew three years ago, who was named last year's "Downtowner of the Year" by the Downtown Orlando Partnership, is also a partner, owner and go-getter for Mateer & Harbert, a law firm that represents, among other clients, The Orlando Sentinel.;;"Of course the Sentinel wouldn't mention it," Gordy says. "They may be part of the problem.";;Those who oppose the Gabrielson contract are keen to say they do not oppose the man. He is a good man, they say, honest, forthright, ethical, perhaps, to a fault. "I don't have a problem with Scott Gabrielson," says councilman Bill Bagley. "I have used him for advice in the past and I don't question his ethics. But the average citizen has a certain level of distrust of government and of attorneys in general.";;One can never be too careful about the credulity of the average citizen.;;Of course, there were ancillary issues as well. As city attorney, Gabrielson would be supervising his boss's daughter, chief assistant city attorney Jody Litchford. The $41,000 in "overhead" cost would be paid to his law firm, and Gabrielson would retain the privilege, according to the proposed contract, of awarding various tidbits of legal work to his fellow partners. The contract mentions "civil litigation and administrative proceedings, the issuance of title insurance, and such other matters as may from time to time be specifically approved.";;The tradition in this position is to award to favored lawyers -- those who volunteer so much that their friends believe they may be overdoing it, perhaps; those who serve their constituents in the state legislature or who take on the difficult task of, say, running a political campaign (as Gabrielson did for Bill Frederick) -- the sort of legal chores that offer large returns but require no heavy lifting. It's called patronage.;;The final issue is the mother issue of the monarchy: Will God save the Queen?;;Hood backs Gabrielson completely, she says, along with his $114,000 contract (a substantial pay-cut for his like). She seems perplexed by the sudden rebellion of her subjects. As of late Tuesday there seemed to be no horse-trading, but she only needs to buy one vote -- er, convince one councilmember to switch.;;Gordy and Bagley seemed to be holding firm; Gordy sounded upset, even surprised, that the mayor would propose a shift in the attorney's position from full-time to part-time with so little notice or discussion. (The current full-time city attorney, Bob Hamilton, is retiring.) "That's a fairly substantial policy change, and not just an appointment," Gordy said. "There should have been more discussion of that.";;The easy answer is to hire Gabrielson outright, but the subtext is the city can't afford him, and that this über volunteer would not deign to be employed for a mere $114,000 per annum. Gordy has other ideas: say, a one-year "trial period" instead of a three-year contract. If it works, extend it; if not, then find someone else. "Or we may find it works great and say, Why not just privatize the whole thing?";;Indeed, the rabble are singing the mayor's tune after all.
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