City hires new lawyers
By Meg Olson
Blaine city council voted unanimously to replace the law firm that has represented the city for more than a decade. After reviewing applications from two firms in executive session before the June 18 special council meeting, Ken Ely made an enthusiastic motion to hire the Bellingham firm Chmelik, Sitkin and Davis, PS instead of Nelson, Brinson, Thigpen and Fryer, the current city attorneys.
Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the decision to review the citys legal representation did not reflect dissatisfaction with city prosecutor David Nelson or city civil attorney Tom Fryer, but was more a matter of timing. I think the relationship the city has with its attorney should be long-term, Tomsic said When they do leave you need to take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate it doesnt come up very often. Matt Elich, Blaine city attorney since 1988, left the Nelson firm in January to take a position as district court commissioner and Fryer took his place. It was an appropriate time to look at it, Tomsic said. The city published a request for qualifications in March and a city council subcommittee interviewed the two firms.
Were really enthusiastic about representing the city, said Frank Chmelik. Chmelik and partner Jon Sitkin said their firm specializes in representing business and governments throughout western Washington. Their clients include fire district #13 and most other county fire districts, the Port of Bellingham, the Bellingham/Whatcom housing authority and several water and sewer districts. Weve focused our development into municipal government, Sitkin said. Were one of the only firms north of Seattle that specializes in representing municipal governments.
Blaine is the first city the firm will represent, though Sitkin worked as the prosecutor for the city of Ferndale. The partners said their first step will be to meet with city staff and determine how to ensure a smooth transition. Were going to sit down with the city and see that we meet their needs, Chmelik said. We want to make sure we do things in the most efficient way possible.
Those meetings will finalize which members of the firm will take over as city prosecutor and city attorney, but Sitkin said their whole team would be involved in the citys business. We try to develop areas of practice for various lawyers, he said. If a specific need arises that lawyer would take care of it. The firm has two lawyers in addition to the three principal partners and will hire another this year.
Tomsic said the firms depth and breadth of experience in municipal law matters made it a perfect fit for the city. They have the specialists in their firm that in the past weve had to go out and contract, he said. They offer us a more full service with more municipal expertise. Matt had developed that expertise over time but when he left we didnt have that.
Tomsic said he expects the transition of legal teams to take approximately 30 days.