By Raiza Giorgi

A unanimous Solvang City Council has hired Interim City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt of Price, Postel and Parma as the permanent city attorney after reviewing requests for proposals from various law firms, even though his firm’s bid was the most expensive in a field of four finalists.

The permanent post had been vacant since longtime City Attorney Dave Fleishman of Hanley & Fleishman, LLP submitted his resignation in late May, two months after an odd attempt at firing him in a closed council meeting that was called and then canceled without any discussion.

Chip Wullbrandt

Wullbrandt was hired after the council first hired Best, Best and Krieger as their interim attorney, but then learned of a conflict of interest and had to seek another firm. They issued the request for proposals (RFP) in mid-June.

An ad hoc committee of Councilmen Chris Djernaes and Daniel Johnson and former City Manager David Gassaway reviewed nine submissions in response to RFP. They recommended four finalists — Price, Postel and Parma (PPP); Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill LLP (OMLO); Burke, Williams & Sorensen LLP; and Cole Huber LLP — to be interviewed if the council chose to conduct interviews ahead of a final decision.

“Daniel (Johnson) made the case as we have been pleased with the performance and effort the city attorney has made to protect and defend the council. The last three months Chip has done an amazing job working beyond the call of duty and far more hours than expected because of a difficult situation,” Djernaes said. 

He added that Wullbrandt went beyond the role of city attorney and he couldn’t think of anyone better. 

Wullbrandt bills for his services at $335 an hour and in his bid estimated a cost of $201,000 per year, the highest of the four responses.

OMLO proposed $285 an hour and an estimated $147,000 per year; Burke, Williams & Sorensen proposed $250 per hour with a yearly estimate of $150,000; and Cole Huber proposed $225 per hour with a yearly estimate of $156,600 with $21,600 in travel costs.

The three other firms submitted resumes for the attorneys they would appoint to serve Solvang, all of whom have prior experience as city attorneys. Wullbrandt’s resume does not list any prior experience as a city attorney, but lists work in representing government agencies in matters dealing with other government agencies, environmental land use, administrative and water law. The Star has reached out to clarify if he has served in this role before, no response has been sent as of yet. 

In the past several years, Solvang has paid an average between $85,000 and $95,000 annually for attorney services. For comparison, Buellton pays a fixed cost of $10,250 per month for up to 50 hours of legal advice. Guadalupe’s city attorney is paid $165 per hour, and Lompoc pays an hourly rate ranging from $170 to $200, or $320 if the city is reimbursed by a private party. 

The council made the hiring decision on Monday night, Sept. 9. When the item was opened for public comment, the only speaker was former councilman Ed Skytt. He advised the council members to seriously consider the other firms and asked them to consider an organization that had experience in municipal law. 

Skytt also brought up the July invoice from Wullbrandt’s firm, which totaled $74,837 for the month. 

“This council talks about fiscal responsibility and this amount just for July is almost equal to what was paid for all of last year,” Skytt said after the meeting. 

During council discussion, Wullbrandt said his firm has been the legal counsel for many municipalities and cities since it was founded in 1852. According to their RFP, they are currently general counsel to the Montecito Fire Protection District, Carpinteria-Summerland Fire Protection District, Housing Authorities for the City of Santa Barbara and County of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Bonita School District and Guadalupe School District.

“I expect moving forward the billings will not be as high as July, as my wife will kill me if I put that amount (of time) in again,” Wullbrandt said. 

Wullbrandt was a primary negotiator in disputes between the council and the Solvang Chamber of Commerce and the Solvang Conference and Visitor’s Bureau. After several failed negotiations with the SCVB, the council decided to terminate further negotiations at their Aug. 27 meeting.

“The amount of money spent in last month with the number of special circumstances that needed legal review had not been addressed adequately in the past. I expect the expenses will decline in the future as we need to get a lot of stuff examined and done correctly,” Councilwoman Karen Waite said. 

Djernaes added on personal level he loves working with Wullbrandt, as he is clear and direct in advice opposed to the previous attorney, Fleishman.

“I can’t thank him enough for taking on and defending interest of the council. He knows so many people in the valley to help to build bridges to work together with people,” Djernaes added. 

Noozhawk’s Janene Scully contributed to this story. She can be reached at