City set to save big bucks: Using law firm a change from having ‘city attorney’

HARLINGEN — A new city attorney won’t just be at City Hall every day and attending regular meetings. He will take on additional legal services, also.

In the process, the city could actually see significant savings.

City commissioners have appointed Ricardo Navarro and the law firm of Denton, Navarro, Rocha, Bernal, Hyde & Zech to replace City Attorney Richard Bilbie, who will retire next month.

“It’s an honor to be appointed,” Navarro said after meeting with city commissioners Wednesday night. “It’s just an expansion of what we’ve been doing.”

While Bilbie draws an annual salary of $130,687 plus about $33,000 in benefits, the city will pay Navarro and his firm a flat fee of $195 an hour.

“We may realize a savings at the end of the year overall,” City Manager Dan Serna said yesterday.

But there are areas where city officials say savings will be apparent.

As part of his job, Navarro and his firm will perform the services of Municipal Court prosecutor while handling collective bargaining, civil service, labor matters and real estate issues.

That will save the city about $140,000, Serna said.

Currently, the city pays Navarro’s firm a similar amount to serve as the court’s prosecutor while handling the other services.

The appointment of Navarro’s firm also means the city will no longer plan to hire an assistant city attorney.

Under the current budget, the city set aside about $80,000 to pay the salary of an assistant city attorney.

But a recent search failed to find the right candidate, Serna said.

“We have so many resources available, you don’t have to look for specialists when you use our firm,” Navarro said.

The city’s search for a city attorney to replace Bilbie led to proposals from Navarro’s firm and the San Antonio-based firm of Langley & Banack, said Efren Fernandez, the city’s human resources director.

A committee made up of Serna, Fernandez and Assistant City Managers Gabriel Gonzalez and Carlos Sanchez gave Navarro’s firm the highest ranking, officials said.

Navarro and his firm will begin to work with the city Jan. 1.

Since 1990, Navarro has been working with the city in various capacities.

After voters approved collective bargaining in 2007, Navarro began representing the city in labor negotiations with the police and firefighters unions.

Navarro said his firm has worked with cities across Texas.

“We’ve pretty much represented every city in the state at one time or another,” he said.

Bilbie was hired under then-Assistant City Attorney Brendan Hall in 2007.

Bilbie was appointed city attorney in 2014 following the resignation of then-City Attorney Roxann Cotroneo.

“I certainly enjoyed my experience with the city. It’s been a great 10 years,” Bilbie said. “I just love the city environment. You feel like you’re in the center of the community. The people with whom I work with are such a great group of people. But I felt like it was time. I wanted to have some time of my own now.”