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NL city attorney to go full time

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Starting July 1, the City of North Liberty will have its own full-time attorney.
Scott Peterson, who has been serving as North Liberty’s legal counsel since August 2006, was brought on as a North Liberty staff member in June 2011 in a three-quarter time position with full-time benefits. At that time, City Administrator Ryan Heiar told the North Liberty City Council hiring Peterson as a staff member would reduce the city’s legal budget by about $59,000 per year from when Peterson was paid as a contractual employee.
Peterson’s new contract, unanimously approved by the city council May 22, offers him an annual salary of $115,051, with a potential increase based on an annual performance review. In addition, Peterson’s benefits include five weeks of paid vacation per year (after the first year), 12 days of paid sick leave, a monthly $90 cell phone allowance, IPERS contributions and paid disability, health and life insurance.
Heiar said the city had planned for Peterson to be hired full time since bringing him on staff last year.
“There are so many issues that we really rely on Scott’s legal advice for, and it’s not just about writing and reviewing contracts,” Heair said. “He does regular training for our staff, including topics like the gift law, the use of city equipment, and training with the police department as well,” Heiar said.
Peterson had been working with a few private clients and serving as the city attorney in Walford and Palo before accepting the position with North Liberty. Erek Sittig, who has served as North Liberty’s assistant city attorney, will assume representation of Palo, Peterson said.
Peterson’s job consists of drafting and reviewing contracts and agreements handling personnel matters, addressing open records requests, reviewing and revising ordinances and serving as legal counsel for the city’s planning staff. Sittig used to handle prosecutorial duties for simple misdemeanors and small claims for the city, Peterson said, but Peterson himself will now be doing that.
“I am happy to be in this position,” Peterson said. “I feel fortunate in making this transition.”
Heiar said the change will still be a bargain for the city’s budget. The city’s legal budget for fiscal 2012-13 is $187,000. In fiscal year 2010-11, prior to hiring legal staff, the city spent $216,000 in legal fees.
“With our community, we rely on a lot of legal advice and we were paying out a tremendous amount of consultant fees to people who were not on staff,” Heiar said. “Now we will be paying less in our legal budget and getting more out of it, because of some of the other expertise Scott will bring to the city.”