Oro Valley hires Flagstaff lawyer - Tucson Local Media: Import

Oro Valley hires Flagstaff lawyer

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Posted: Thursday, March 17, 2005 12:00 am

March 16, 2005 - The Oro Valley Town Council has made its choice for a new town attorney, offering the position to Flagstaff attorney Melinda Garrahan last week.

The council approved extending the offer to Garrahan by a 4 to 3 vote during a special session held March 7. Councilmember Kenneth "K.C." Carter, Conny Culver and Terry Parish opposed the decision.

Oro Valley narrowed its search for a new town attorney from a field of 20 to the two finalists after a Feb. 19 meeting. The council then interviewed the finalists, Tucson's Jose Machado and Garrahan during an executive session March 7.

While the hiring is not finalized, Garrahan said, in a telephone interview from her Flagstaff home, she does not "anticipate any bumps in the road."

"I have a general idea of the benefits and salary range," she said. "But as to the specifics of a contract for a department head, I'll have to wait and see." The contract will be negotiated with the town's human resources director Jeff Grant and will then be brought before the council in a public meeting to be approved.

The salary range for the position is between $72,862 and $109,293, Grant said, and determining the exact salary will be part of the negotiations. The town attorney is the head of the town's legal department and supervises a staff of five, which includes the town prosecutor, civil attorney, a paralegal, legal assistant and legal secretary.

Grant said he hopes to move the negotiations along "as quickly as possible" and should have the contract before the council by early April.

Garrahan said she does not know when she will begin working in Oro Valley.

"That will be part of the negotiations," she said. "I know the town has been out of a town attorney for a while and Tobin Sidles has been doing double duty, but I have to wrap up 15 years of my life living up here."

She said she hopes to be able to work out a flexible schedule wherein she can work a few days in Oro Valley and return to Flagstaff for a few days to get her affairs in order for the move.

While both the finalists are longtime Arizona residents with backgrounds in municipal law, those supporting Garrahan as a choice thought her experience shined the brightest.

"It is her overall competence, expertise and experience," said Councilmember Helen Dankwerth of what made Garrahan the choice for the position.

Because she has spent her career in municipal law, Dankwerth said she believes Garrahan has the most extensive knowledge of land use laws and other areas of governmental law that are important to Oro Valley as it develops.

"She has an overarching grasp of all the areas that Oro Valley needs to get up to speed on," she said.

Parish was on the dissenting end of the vote to offer Garrahan the position. He said, while he thought both candidates were "extremely qualified," he preferred Machado's straightforward way of communicating.

"He is a very clear, concise speaker. He's direct and to the point," he said. "Sometimes its hard to nail down the attorney. I want someone who is going to say 'I think this is what we're supposed to do and why. We need a strong person who's not afraid to give us a legal opinion.'"

He said because both candidates are so qualified, the decision, he believes, came down to the candidate's personal style.

Dankwerth said style was an important factor and described Garrahan as "very polished, very personable and very proactive."

Proactivity was of particular interest to the council member, who said the use of risk management will "help keep us out of trouble."

Garrahan has said she believes in what she calls "preventative law," which she said deals with getting involved in a litigious issue early and "managing the risk."

Dankwerth also described Garrahan as deliberative, and said a lawyer who does the research before hand will be able to offer the council all the information it needs to make informed decisions.

Garrahan worked in the law offices of Mangum, Wall, Stoops and Warden, in Flagstaff, since the late 1980s, first as an associate, then as a partner.

During her time with the practice, she acted as general counsel for several municipalities, including the city of Cottonwood, the towns of Fredonia and Camp Verde, Northern Arizona University and Coconino Community College, and several local school districts. Garrahan also served as the Sedona city attorney from 1991 to 1996, before the city had an in-house attorney.

Garrahan, 53, was born in New Mexico, but has lived in Arizona since she was 9 years old. She went to undergraduate school at Northern Arizona University and to law school at Arizona State University.

She said throughout the hiring process she has been impressed by the "very professional and organized manner" in which Oro Valley conducts business.

"The council is very interested and very involved," she said. "And they asked a lot of good questions."

Dankwerth said she believes having the council involved in the selection process resulted in a candidate she said "meshes with the personalities of the council and with how the town sees itself."

She said with the reporting structure recently changed to have the town attorney report directly to the town council, it will be important to have someone with which the council can effectively communicate, and she believes Garrahan will be that person.

Once official, Garrhan will fill the position left vacant by former Town Attorney Mark Langlitz who left the town last October to take a position with the Pima County Attorney's Office in the civil division.

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