The DuPage County Election Commission has relied on attorney Pat Bond for legal advice and representation since 1996.
But after Bond's law firm was paid roughly $385,000 in fees in 2011 and 2012, members of the board overseeing the commission want to know if there's a more cost-effective way to meet the agency's legal needs.
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Board members recently refused to take action on a proposed one-year extension of the commission's deal with Bond, Dickson & Associates, which is based in Wheaton.
Instead, they've directed staff to do a review of the contract to help determine whether other law firms should be allowed to bid on the work. Another option that will be explored is whether the commission should hire an in-house attorney.
"We need to look at how much we're spending outsourcing legal and how much it would cost to hire legal in-house and what is the most cost-effective way to do business," said Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the election board.
Attempts to contact Bond this week were unsuccessful.
The commission isn't legally required to seek bids when hiring law firms.
However, DuPage has a policy requiring that professional services contracts be reviewed at least once every three years.
Terrill said she couldn't find any record of the election commission doing a similar review in recent years of the Bond, Dickson & Associates contract.
However, a one-year extension of the contract that was approved in February 2011 was one of 12 deals mentioned in a report critical of the commission's ethics and procurement practices.
That report by Crowe Horwath -- a consulting firm hired by the county -- indicated the commission failed to follow its own guidelines when it awarded the contracts.
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin responded by appointing all new members -- including Terrill -- to the three-person election board.
Cronin said he supports the panel's decision to take another look at the commission's legal expenses.
"They're going to open it up," Cronin said. "There's going to be competitive bidding. They're going to see what else is out there."
While the commission is an independent agency, Cronin said election board members are sensitive to the Crowe Horwath report. The consultants recommended that all of the commission's contracts be reviewed.
"We want to make sure we're getting the best quality legal counsel for the best price," he said.
As part of its contract, Bond, Dickson & Associates charges the election commission $235 an hour for representation, including telephone calls, office work and legal research; $280 an hour for court appearances; $420 per meeting to attend board meetings; and $2,100 per day for all election day activities.
The commission paid the law firm $158,856 and $226,649 in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
This year, the agency budgeted $130,000 for legal fees, officials said.
Until a change is made, Bond, Dickson & Associates will continue as the legal counsel for the election commission.
If the board decides to seek bids from other law firms, Bond, Dickson & Associates will be able to apply. "It will be an open, competitive process," Terrill said.