City attorney services questioned

By Mike Linn

Portales city officials haven’t requested proposals for city attorney services since 1990 — something state officials say is a violation of state procurement code.
But Portales city attorney Stephen Doerr said his firm’s contract with the city is valid and requests for proposals from other attorneys is not necessary.
State code 13-1-150 states that “a contract for professional services may not exceed four years, including all extensions and renewals.”
While the city’s contract with Doerr and Knudson law firm is on a month-to-month arrangement, it has been continually renewed since 1990.
Doerr said that since the arrangement is not multi-term — at least one year — the procurement code doesn’t apply.
“Any contract that is a year or longer has to be renewed every four years, and that’s when RFPs (request for proposals) must go out for services,” Doerr said. “Our deal is technically not even a contract. It’s kind of like a month-to-month arrangement.
“If you rent property from somebody you can either have a month-to-month rental or an actual lease, and a lease is kind of like a multi-year term. And we don’t even have that. When we set it up that way they (state officials) had a different opinion.”
But current state officials disagree with Doerr’s assessment of state code in relation to the month-to-month arrangement with the city.
“That doesn’t fly in my opinion,” said Scott Spencer, general counsel for the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. “They need to go out for proposals every four years.”
David Ruiz, director of local government division for the Department of Finance and Administration, agreed with Spencer’s interpretation of the state code. Ruiz said he is looking into the situation with Portales.
“They need to seek proposals every four years,” Ruiz said. “I’m going to have to do some research as to what our actions or reactions should be with something like that.”
City attorney Randy Knudson said the main purpose of the code is to prevent long contracts — which some professionals may take advantage of by not offering quality service throughout the contract term.
Knudson said the month-to-month arrangement allows the city council to extinguish legal services within 30 days, rather than having to wait until a multi-year contract runs out.
“I like the current month-to-month contracts,” council member Dianne Parker said during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. “This way we know if we’re not happy we can give a 30-day notice and vice versa.”
Council member Alfred Bachicha agreed with Parker, and Mayor Orlando Ortega said Doerr and Knudson “have provided excellent service to the city of Portales.”
Doerr said his firm in the past has sought multi-term contracts with the city but city commissioners were against it.
Both Doerr and partner Randy Knudson provide legal services to Portales.