Before inviting law firms to compete for a contract with the DuPage County Election Commission, the board overseeing the agency wants to explore the possibility of hiring an in-house attorney.
Board members have directed Robert Saar, the commission's executive director, to prepare a memo focusing on whether the agency should abandon its long-standing practice of using outside legal counsel and create an in-house position.
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"I think it's a good idea to do a comprehensive assessment of how we can get the best legal services for the most reasonable amount of money," said Cathy Ficker Terrill, chairwoman of the election board. "Mr. Saar needs to come back to us with an analysis so we can make a decision."
The commission has been represented by attorney Pat Bond since 1996. But board members refused to take action on a proposed one-year extension of the commission's deal with Bond, Dickson & Associates, which is based in Wheaton.
While the commission isn't legally required to do so, board members are planning to seek bids from law firms.
"It's best practice for all professional services to go out to bid every three to four years," Terrill said.
According to Saar, the commission has paid a total of roughly $841,000 in fees to Bond, Dickson & Associates between the start of 2008 and the end of last year. The law firm received another $52,785 for work done during the first four months of this year.
But before seeking bids, Saar said board members must decide if the commission will hire an in-house attorney.
"It's not fair to have a dozen law firms do a RFQ (request for qualifications) for outsourced services if the board is going to have the services done in-house," he said.
Saar is expected to make his recommendation to the board on June 14. Meanwhile, he said, his research has been difficult because none of the election agencies in the state rely solely on in-house attorneys.
Even though the Cook County Clerk's office and State Board of Elections employ in-house attorneys, Saar said, they get additional legal representation from the state's attorney's office and the attorney general's office, respectively.
If the board decides to seek bids for legal work, Bond, Dickson & Associates will be able to apply. In the meantime, the firm will continue as the legal counsel for the election commission.
As part of its contract, Bond, Dickson & Associates charges the 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.