Delaware County’s spending on outside attorneys or law firms shot up fivefold from 2019 to 2020, according to new information provided by the county. The updated figures incorporate data that had been previously omitted in response to a Right-to-Know Law request filed by Broad + Liberty.
In 2019, spending on outside legal services totaled about $402,000. In 2020, that spending increased to $2.2 million.
In mid-July, we reported that the 2020 number had only risen to $1.14 million, due to the county’s error.
After publication of the July story, several persons contacted Broad + Liberty asserting that the $1.14 million figure was incorrect, specifically noting that payments to the Harrisburg firm McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC seemed short.
A second Right-to-Know request revealed that the county had omitted the McNees billings due to an accidental human error.
“The County’s response to the prior request was based on a computer query that was too limiting and failed to identify this set of legal payments [to McNees]. We are sorry for any confusion,” said the county’s spokesperson, Adrienne Marofsky. “The County’s subsequent sharing of the information, in connection with a different Open Records request, demonstrates that the prior error was not willful.”
According to the data already obtained and analyzed, the upward trend of spending on legal services appears to be continuing, at least when compared to 2019.
Through the first five months of the year, the county has already paid more than $521,000 on legal services. If that pace of spending continues, Delco will spend about $1.2 million on outside legal assistance, three times what it spent in 2019, but down from 2020.
Through the first five months of the year, the county has already paid more than $521,000 on legal services.
“Several significant litigation matters, along with unusual costs associated with the county-wide reassessment, the 2020 election and the organization of the new County Health Department contributed to the increase in legal costs,” Marofsky told Broad + Liberty at the time of the July story.
The new information arrives as Delaware County is facing other spending questions.
In last week’s preliminary council meeting, Delaware County Controller JoAnne Phillips explained that spending is up for Monarch Staffing, a temporary employment agency that the county heavily relies on.
“I mean it’s a big number in 2020. It was 1.5 million [that] year,” Phillips said during public comment.
“When we pay the bills tomorrow night, [the county’s expenses will be] $2.9 million this year to Monarch with no RFP.”
Phillips did point out that a large portion of the spending on Monarch has come through federal CARES Act money.
In addition to the staffing expenses, Phillips has been quietly raising spending issues about personnel costs by submitting written comments to be included with the record at many of the recent personnel board meetings over the last year.
“Tomorrow, you will be considering an increase in the Public Relations Director’s salary by almost 18 percent,” from about $80,000 to $95,000, Phillips used as an example last September.
“I continue to be concerned that the salary increases being approved by Council will further exacerbate pay disparity among people working for the County, lead to issues of fairness in compensation, and possibly lead to difficulty in meeting the County’s overall budget goals,” she continued.
“I continue to be concerned that the salary increases being approved by Council will further exacerbate pay disparity among people working for the County…”
Minutes kept for the July 20 meeting of the personnel board show that the county considered creating a new “Deputy County Administrator” position with a salary of roughly $186,000. County Council Chairman Brian Zidek persuaded the board to table the motion.
Here, too, Phillips expressed concerns.
“While the need for an assistant may be justified, the proposed salary would make this individual the 3rd highest paid person in the County. Directors with substantial responsibilities and with years of County service are not at this salary level,” she wrote.
At the following meeting in August, the position was approved but the salary was cut to $162,000.
As previously reported, the county overpaid by 40 percent on a lease for a property to house the new county health department office. Over the five-year life of the lease, the excess payments will cost taxpayers about a quarter of a million dollars.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com.