PB: Block Billing – More Than Meets the Eye?
One of SDM’s keen-eyed readers observed the exchange at the last council meeting regarding the village attorney’s billing practices. SDM went back to the tape and agrees that the Mayor made a very telling comment.
But before SDM gets there, let’s set the stage. The village for a long time has placed its legal bills on the agenda under the “consent” section. The consent agenda is like a negative check-off, meaning that if a member has an issue with an item in the consent section, she must pull the item and place it on the regular agenda. Otherwise, everything on the consent agenda passes.
Usually, the items on the consent agenda are simple, noncontroversial and require little deliberation. Before Palmetto Bay became litigation central, it may have made sense to put its legal bills on the consent agenda. Today, given the substantial drain on resources these bills represent, SDM thinks they should be given more scrutiny and apparently so does Vice Mayor Dubois. The Mayor thinks not, apparently, but again we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Vice Mayor Dubois did his own review of the legal bills and using a businessman’s eye noticed a problem:
I pulled this item from the agenda because I wanted to make a point. In the spirit of transparency, we need to avoid any future block billing. That is, [the] billing where a four or five hour block of time is associated with 5, 6, 7 different projects with indefinite time amounts that we’ve seen on the bills. So… [the village attorney] has accommodated us on the most recent bill and I believe on a going-forward basis that it will be addressed. The issue is the inability to audit the billing records as well as the inability to reconcile them back to projects to do project-specific cost accounting. So I think it’s very important that we get away from this block billing that’s been instituted relatively recently.
Sounds eminently reasonable to SDM, but Mayor Stanczyk didn’t think so. She asked the village attorney if this practice was recent. The village attorney replied that it had been the billing practice for over ten years. The Mayor then continued:
Alright, umm…well as long as we’re not busy doing billing as opposed to giving attention to legal work. I think, uh, legal work is the priority here.
SDM Code Breaker: There are a couple of interesting things to notice from this exchange:
- Vice Mayor Dubois, in his first meeting, noticed a billing practice that the manager should have flagged years ago. When the attorney bills the village four-hours of time on several matters, there is no way to allocate precisely those costs to the projects or matters addressed. Legal costs, then, are not considered when the manager calculates the total costs of the projects or matters under his purview. That the village may not be doing project-specific cost accounting should concern every member of the council, including Mayor Deputy Amigo.
- It’s bad enough that the Mayor missed the point of Mr. Dubois’s observation as she busily attempts to protect her flank. What’s worse, however, is the implication of her question: because the misleading billing has been going on for a decade, that makes the practice okay. The practice is not okay and the village leadership should have caught it sooner.
- To top off her performance, Mrs. Stanczyk displayed a further misunderstanding of the issue with her nonsensical statement regarding the village attorney “giving attention to legal work” versus being “busy doing billing.” The village doesn’t give a darn how much time the village attorney spends on billing because taxpayers don’t pay her to compile her bills. This is Management 101 for crying out loud.
SDM Says: Mayor Stanczyk perpetually ignores the compulsion to opine on every topic under discussion, even when it is obvious she hasn’t thought the matter through. SDM thinks the Mayor should consider adhering to the old adage, it’s better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.