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Farmington Schools Officials Split on Attorney Fees

Two board members raise questions over proposals submitted by firms serving the district.

With a 4-2 vote Tuesday, board members approved fee increases ranging from 2-10 percent for two of the seven legal firms that serve the district.

Board member Karen Bolsen abstained from the vote, saying her husband is a partner in one of the law firms, although he does not do work for the district. 

At the board's last meeting, secretary George Gurrola asked to see justification for the requested increases, which he feels are inappropriate given the district's current financial challenges. Officials in June approved a budget for the coming year that uses more than $11 million of the district's fund balance to offset declining revenues and increased expenses.

"I know our attorneys are excellent … they all deserve a raise. But that's not the environment we are in right now," he said. "The first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging."

Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Support Services David Ruhland said the law firms have, in the past, frozen and lowered their fees to reflect the times. 

"I understand the concern for fees," he said. "At the same time, working with these firms, and especially the nature of the work that's being done, I feel the fee increases are modest and appropriate."

Board member Dr. Murray Kahn voted no because he objected to the work done by one firm, which he did not name. He said the firm gave the district poor advice with regard to an appraisal on the Eagle Elementary School building, because it was initially kept confidential.

Read more about the sale of Eagle Elementary to the Franklin-based Islamic Cultural Association. 

"There's no reason that the appraisal of one of our properties should be done in secret," he said.

Ruhland countered that, in his experience, making an appraisal public can interfere with getting the highest possible price for a property. He said the appraisal was made public in the closing documents for the sale. 

Firms that do work for the district include Freeman, Cotton & Gleason PC and Lusk & Albertson PLC, both of Bloomfield Hills; Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone PC, Detroit; Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Hampton, Truex & Morley PC, Troy; Thrun Law Firm PC, East Lansing; Clark Hills PLC, Grand Rapids; and Oakland Schools Legal Services, Waterford. 

art August 22, 2012 at 01:01 PM
At what point in time does this school board start thinking outside the box. It appears that' business as usual' is the FS board motto. Asking questions and making these firms accountable is part of their responsibility, aside from the fact that one board members husband works for one of the firm.Perhaps this is part of the problem of being on the board "forever"!
Bob August 22, 2012 at 01:34 PM
"Ruhland countered that, in his experience, making an appraisal public can interfere with getting the highest possible price for a property. He said the appraisal was made public in the closing documents for the sale." They should ALWAYS be public from the start, and appraisal has nothing to due with the final sale, its a approx value based on the markets and surrounding sales.... Buzz as usl for FPS
David Anderson August 22, 2012 at 05:02 PM
"The first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging." -- How many "new" families were brought into the district after expanding HCC to include two new sections (K,1) at a cost of $200k/year? Stop adding to the hole and begin filling it!
art August 22, 2012 at 11:21 PM
David, I am beginning to believe what I have read many times before that whatever the Superintendent wants the Board is bound to give it to her.
David Anderson August 23, 2012 at 01:52 AM
I don't know about any conspiracies or anything like that. I simply see the BOE is willing to spend on some things and cut on others. For example, they had the opportunity to strengthen STEM - a curriculum that is gaining demand and is becoming a differentiator. Instead, they chose to throw money into the HCC hole with the hope of a positive return. Had they simply asked the same type of probing questions as they did in the three (four?) sessions about the dog park, then maybe the district would've saved money (at least not spent as much).

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