Blair retains labor attorneys

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County will continue relying on labor attorneys from a Harrisburg-based law firm, as authorized by commissioners in a 2-1 vote.

Chairman Bruce Erb and Laura Burke voted this week in favor of a resolution approving fees set by McNees, Wallace & Nurick LLC, as charged between Dec. 1 and May 30 and as starting June 1.

Commissioner Amy Webster voted against the resolution and recommended looking for a law firm with more affordable rates.

“These folks have given us excellent service,” Webster said. “But I don’t believe these are numbers that we can pass onto our taxpayers to pay.”

Based on the vote, the county’s rate for labor counsel services, as of June 1, became $300 per hour for use of a dedicated county labor counsel.

The cost of using another attorney in the McNees, Wallace & Nurick LLC law firm, will vary from $235 to $595 an hour, depending on expertise, practice and experience.

The cost of services provided by paralegals and specialists will be $185 to $355 an hour, depending on expertise, practice and experience.

Burke, who described the firm’s prices as high, suggested approving them for now.

“We have two union contracts being negotiated,” she said. “We can’t be without a labor attorney now.”

Burke and Erb also agreed to approve a portion of the resolution recognizing the firm’s fees in effect between Dec. 1 and May 30 when the county paid $340 an hour for the dedicated county labor attorney.

Bills for services between Dec. 1 to May 30 have already been paid, they said.

That would include monthly billing submitted by McNees, Wallace & Nurick that are associated with their services rendered to county departments. A review of approved amounts shows the county paying about $15,000 a month for the law firm’s services. Available figures show payments in 2021 ranging from a low of $9,438 for services in May to a high of $22,085 for services in February.

When commissioners met Sept. 23, Clerk/County Administrator Nicole Hemminger explained that McNees Wallace & Nurick notified the county late last year of a fee increase as of Dec.1.

But the firm’s letter went to the county’s human resources, Hemminger said, and not to the commissioners’ office.

Once the rate change came to light, a resolution reflecting the change was offered at the Aug. 31 meeting, then put on holding pending negotiations that led to the lesser hourly rate effective June 1.

Erb said that it was he and former Commissioner Terry Tomassetti, who pursued and supported the use of McNees, Wallace & Nurick LLC for labor counsel services, over the objections of fellow commissioner Ted Beam Jr.

Erb said the current commissioners board has the option of soliciting proposals from law firms interested in providing labor counsel.

Under the state’s County Code, the county is not required to solicit bids for labor counsel because the work is considered a professional service. If commissioners decide to solicit proposals for labor counsel, they’re under no obligation to select the cheapest rates.

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