By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The decision of whether to keep Havre's public defender for another year was postponed by the Havre City Council's Finance Committee on Wednesday night because of uncertainties about whether the city already advertised for bids for the job.
The committee met with attorney Jim Spangelo, who has been Havre's public defender for about 20 years, to receive his proposal for next year's services. Spangelo proposed to do the job for $19,278 for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Spangelo is being paid $17,000 to do the job this year. The public defender handles about 100 cases a year, he said.
He said that as a result of actions by the state Legislature, certain crimes like domestic abuse and driving under the influence become felonies after multiple offenses. That means that public defenders spend more time on the initial offenses, since convictions could eventually lead to felony charges and more than a year of jail time if there are subsequent offenses, Spangelo said.
He also asked to be allowed to join the city's insurance pool. He said the premium price would come out of his pay.
All four committee members said Wednesday they are happy with the job Spangelo has done, and would prefer to rehire him without advertising for bids. The committee decided earlier this year to negotiate with Spangelo first and possibly ask for bids if it wasn't happy with the price.
The city is not required to bid out the public defender position, said City Council member Rick Pierson, who sits on the Finance Committee.
Committee chair Tom Farnham said after the meeting that he thinks the city should accept Spangelo's proposal.
"He's done a great job for a long time," Farnham said.
Committee members postponed the decision after Farnham told them that Mayor Bob Rice had instructed City Clerk Lowell Swenson to advertise for the position earlier Wednesday.
Rice said today that he instructed Swenson to advertise for the city prosecutor position, not the public defender position. He said he would prefer to bid out the public defender's job, but he doesn't have the authority to do it.
"If it were up to me I would bid it out, but that's their thing. I don't want to micromanage the Finance Committee," Rice said.
City Council member Pam Hillery, who sits on the committee, disagreed with bidding out the job.
"I'm very uncomfortable going through a bidding process if I already know the person I want," she said after the meeting Wednesday.
Farnham, who realized the error after talking to Swenson this morning, said he will schedule another Finance Committee meeting before the next council meeting to vote on whether to accept Spangelo.
The committee's recommendation will then be voted on by the City Council at its June 7 meeting.
Spangelo told the committee he generally favors bids, but not in this case because they don't allow for factors like experience. He said he expects that the Legislature will outlaw bids for the public defender position.