Although the St. Pete Beach city commission voted unanimously May 27 to approve a contract to make Susan Churuti the attorney of record as of July 1, they also voted to look for a new attorney.
Churuti, an attorney with Bryant Miller Olive who historically represented the city only when the attorney of record, Mike Davis, could not attend meetings, will become the city’s official attorney when Davis retires in June. Because the St. Pete Beach city charter mandates the city must name an individual rather than a firm as its attorney, Bryant Miller Olive presented the city with a contract for Churuti’s services.
Bryant Miller Olive will charge St. Pete Beach a $4,500 monthly retainer, $205 for attorney time, $125 for paralegal or law clerk time, and $225 an hour for special counsel.
Churuti, who at the last meeting read a list of her stated conflicts of interest and told the commission her specialty wasn’t city law, said she wanted to help the city however she could.
“I don’t want to take advantage of the fact that you’re vulnerable and I don’t think this contract does that,” Churuti said, referencing the city’s vacant city manager and community development director positions.
“I don’t feel like we’re vulnerable,” Lowe said. “I don’t feel like the city is in jeopardy.”
While several in audience asked the commission to seek another attorney and cited a 2007 scandal involving Churuti at the county level – Churuti, an attorney for Pinellas County who represented both the county and the property appraiser in a land deal between the two, was later cleared by a grand jury – the commission kept their remarks to the present. They thanked Churuti but said they wanted to get bids from other attorneys.
“I think we owe it to the taxpayers that we do go out and see what’s out there,” District Two Commissioner Rick Falkenstein said. Commissioners added the need to get bids was not only about price, but did not elaborate beyond expressing a desire to investigate their options.
At the last commission meeting, Churuti told the commission Bryant Miller Olive would not bid but would stand by the contract.
Should the commissioners wish to change attorneys, the commission can terminate the contract with 30 days notice.