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SEIU members complain about housing authority legal fee increase


Union employees at the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority objected Thursday to the payment of nearly $1 million in legal fees, while the attorney blamed the union for driving his fees up.

More than 20 Service Employees International Union members said they are still on furloughs two days a month — essentially a 9 percent decrease in their salaries.

Meanwhile the authority’s board approved increasing the legal fees for the Las Vegas law firm of Parker, Nelson & Associates by an additional $329,205. Attorney Theodore Parker said he needed the extra money because of the additional legal services outside the normal scope of his work. It brings his legal fees to about $907,000 for this fiscal year ending Oct. 1.

Parker blamed the unions for his extra costs because there have been nine arbitration sessions and lengthy contract negotiations with the SEIU. He also said there have been two complex development deals and an internal investigation.

Authority Executive Director John Hill declined to provide details of the internal investigation, other than to say it’s not a criminal investigation.

SEIU members in purple shirts packed the board meeting Thursday and handed out fliers saying: “Let’s tell the SNRHA: ‘Pay Your Employees Before Money-Grubbing Attorneys.’ ”

Board Chairman Father Dave Casaleggio became angry at the protesters and the piggy flavor of the fliers and said the protests of Parker’s fees “are not negotiations; it’s playing games.”

Board member Sanje Sedera suggested the authority should consider hiring a full-time in-house attorney. “I’m not sure if this is the best model going forward in the future.” He said some items handled by the law firm should be handled in small claims court. “These things could be handled internally and that could save us money.”

Hill said it’s the board decision whether to hire an outside law firm that bills by the hour, plus expenses, or hire an in-house attorney.

Board member Tim O’Callaghan said Tuesday hiring an in-house attorney deserves discussion. “Anytime we can save the agency money a discussion needs to be held,” he said. But he isn’t positive the legal issues could all be handled in-house, so it might not be a savings.

The authority has 212 employees and 84 percent are SEIU members, including James Jackson.

“I can understand how the housing authority has to do business. I just feel there’s a lot of expensive fees here,” Jackson said after the meeting.

“There’s a lot of foot-dragging on the part of management,” added union member Courtney Errington.

The authority brought Parker into contract negotiations because SEIU had attorney Michael Urban negotiating.

Parker pointed out that in a Department of Labor dispute over failing to pay overtime wages, he saved the agency $1.7 million in a case that was settled for $425,000.

“Nobody was intentionally not paying overtime, but the record-keeping wasn’t good,” O’Callaghan said.

Parker also said there are costs for copying and expert testimony and that four of the nine arbitrations were dismissed by stipulation. Five are still pending. Hill said it’s the most arbitrations the authority has ever had at one time.

The additional legal fees were approved by the board with two abstentions, Sedera and Deborah Patton.

Hill defended the furloughs which began December 2013, saying he had to save about $2 million, and he was able to do it without laying anyone off by keeping vacant positions vacant and taking some money out of reserves, all without reducing services. He said in fiscal 2014 starting in October, “Personally, I am forgoing my ability to get a raise.”

Hill is planning a celebration June 13 to draw attention to 60 accomplishments that have occurred since he joined the authority more than three years ago.

Contact Jane Ann Morrison at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275.

 

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