Belen City Council hires Albuquerque attorney

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A one-year contract for the next Belen city attorney left councilors divided on whom to choose.

Councilors Jerah Cordova and Wayne Gallegos wanted to choose to continue receiving legal services from Marcus Rael of Robles, Rael and Aragon, PC, of Albuquerque, whom the city's evaluation committee recommended to councilors for the one-year contract.

But Councilors Mary Aragon and David Carter spoke against that measure, wanting a local attorney, Tibo J. Chavez Jr., of Belen, to represent the city.

In the end, Mayor Rudy Jaramillo broke the tie and voted for the Albuquerque firm to fill the shoes of a legal representative for the Hub City during a January city council meeting.

Three proposals, submitted for the request for proposals for a legal representative, were assessed and scored by the evaluation committee, consisting of City Manager Mary Lucy Baca, Carter and Police Chief Dan Robb, for experience, knowledge, accessibility, response time, references, costs and a narrative explaining their experience with municipalities.

Rael came in with the highest points at 7,377, while Chavez received 7,104 points and Sutin, Thayer & Browne, APC, from Albuquerque, had 6,056 points, said Belen City Clerk Leona Vigil.

Although Rael and Chavez received the same score in cost and narrative, Rael had a higher score in experience and references. Chavez received more points in accessibility, response time and knowledge, Vigil said.

When Aragon asked if extra weight was given to Chavez for being a local attorney, Vigil responded that there was.

However, state statute defines "local" as an entity within the state, said the city's Planning and Zoning Director Steve Tomita.

The fact the council asked Vigil to issue an RFP instead of pursuing an extension for the existing legal contract with Rael, was "evident that there were some concerns with possibly his performance," Carter said.

Aragon said she pushed for Rael's contract to be a year long because she's "always felt" the city would be better served by a Belen attorney.

"They know the citizens. They know the properties. They know the things that are going on," she said.

Individual letters were sent to Belen attorneys advising them the city was seeking legal services, Baca said.

"We had several local attorneys that said, 'I want it,' and we wanted to make sure they were all aware of it, but Chavez was the only one who responded back," Baca said.

While searching for an attorney last year, the city didn't receive any local inquiries.

Cordova told his fellow councilors he needed a good reason, based on fact, besides that Chavez is local, to vote against the committee's recommendations.

"I would need to know why the second bidder exceeds, in some way, the first bidder," Cordova said. "Based on the points scale, its not reflected. Obviously I would need some other justification for supporting that person or that bidder that was in the second spot."

Attorney Lauren L. Zabicki, with the Chavez law firm, said she was concerned Rael received more points under the references section due to the multiple contracts and experience his partners have.

Attorneys received points for references within the last three years, which Chavez didn't have. He has, however, served as Belen's city attorney in the past.

Chavez told the councilors he practiced "actively" in every court in the state from municipal to federal courts since 1981.

"It gives me extreme experience that somebody that gives a presentation at a council meeting doesn't have and can not get unless you've litigated for a long time," he said.

Rael is the city attorney for 11 municipalities, including Belen, on top of three counties, he told the councilors. Having governmental contracts is in Rael's favor, he said, since laws dealing with municipalities change yearly.

"It's something I'm up-to-date with and something I specialize in. It's all that I do," Rael said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.