The services of the law firm retained by the City Council to provide legal advice to the City continues to be the subject of intense disagreement among council members, who completed the firm’s annual evaluation at the end of March.
The city retains the Anchorage law firm Birch Horton Bittner & Cherot, attorneys from which draft legislation and provide legal advice to the city.
The firm, which employs dozens of lawyers, has supplied different attorneys to work on different subject areas, but has typically been represented at council meetings by William Earnhart, a specialist in employment law who also headed the city’s negotiation team in contract discussions with the Seward Public Employees Association.
Attorney Holly Wells has recently appeared as the firm’s representative at City Council meetings.
The firm and Earnhart received an average score of 2.88 out of 5, according to the final evaluation document released by the city clerk.
That document paints an incomplete picture of the council’s discussion, since the council’s evaluation procedure anonymizes council remarks and obliterates council member’s individual scores, leaving only a final average and a sequence of anonymous comments.
Earnhart also completed a self-evaluation, but that document is destroyed after the evaluation, according to the City Council Rules of Procedure.
Although the council retains the whole firm to provide legal services, council members have had the most contact with Earnhart, and the final evaluation reflects that. The comments include a mixture of praise, mild criticism, and out-and-out opposition.
“While I’m not aware of individual council members’ requests, all contact I have had with the firm has been positive, even if I did not agree with the answer that I got,” wrote one member.
At the other end of the spectrum, one council member repeatedly asks that the firm resign.
“Council and the public are ready for a new legal team,” that member wrote. “We wish you well in your future endeavors [and] ask that you would allow us to end this relationship with grace and professionalism.”