In city attorney fight, Hood gets her man

The battle is over, the test now begins. W. Scott Gabrielson is the new city attorney at 25 hours per week, $95 an hour, a bargain at twice the price. So say three members of the Orlando City Council and Mayor Glenda Hood, the bare majority. Monday's council vote marked the end of the most dramatic disagreement yet in the Mayor's tenure. It was postponed last month when Hood discovered dissent in the ranks. Council member Bruce Gordy had complained of the contract's $155,000 cost and Gabrielson's part-time stature. Gabrielson is a partner in Mateer & Harbert, a prominent firm that represents, among other clients, The Orlando Sentinel. The ability of Gabrielson to refer city legal work to his partners and the appearance of, and potential for, other conflicts of interest animated all of the council members' criticism, if not the daily newspaper's coverage of the matter. Only Nap Ford signed on with the mayor from the start. He and Ernest Page joined Gordy to give Gabrielson the nod. The mayor was effusive in her praise. Thanks to Gordy's questions, it is a better contract, she said. So how has it changed? Where it used to say that Gabrielson could farm out work to Mateer & Harbert, and specifically listed which types of work, now it merely gives him the right to "refer certain of the city's legal work to outside counsel." This is, of course, exactly the same thing. The council presumably will keep a watchful eye on this provision, as it must now approve all such outside contracts. It is perhaps instructive that none on the council knew how much city work Mateer & Harbert, or any other law firm, has gotten in the past. (The agreement forbids Mateer from taking on any clients who want to sue the city, however.) Proponents of the deal made much of its efficiency, and have tacked on a side deal calling for a six-month audit of the city's 18-lawyer legal department to find further efficiencies. Gordy praised this provision above all, comparing it to a similar study done recently of the city's garbage collection efforts, resulting in a decrease in service and a claimed $2 million in future savings. "I think the general public, when they read this is the paper, is going to say, 'Gosh that's an awful lot of money for a part time employee,'" Gordy said. "But even at $95 an hour, that's the low end of the scale in Orlando, Florida." Calls to the Legal Aid Society and the Public Defender's office, went unreturned at press time.
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