The council has been contracting with Jordan Ramis PC for the better part of four decades.

Shelby Rihala.Since about 1980, according to Mayor John L. Cook, Tigard has contracted with Jordan Ramis PC as its city attorney.

The well-respected Lake Oswego law firm specializes in providing municipal legal services, and it sends an attorney to nearly every meeting of the city councils it serves. In recent years, in Tigard, that attorney has usually been Shelby Rihala, a former Washington County employee who has worked for Jordan Ramis for about four years.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 3, the Tigard City Council made a surprising move: After meeting in executive session, it emerged and voted unanimously to appoint Rihala to a position working directly for the city as its in-house attorney.

"The city has periodically reviewed whether it makes more sense to have an in-house or contracted city attorney over time," explained Cook in an email last Thursday. "We think an in-house city attorney would improve our risk management, potentially lower our overall costs for legal advice, and give us more convenience for getting advice about things like development and land use code interpretations, contract and (intergovernmental agreement) reviews, and fewer conflicts of interest."

At the same time, the council voted to authorize City Manager Marty Wine to "renegotiate" the city's contract with Jordan Ramis, which is set to expire in December unless it is renewed.

Tim Ramis, the firm's co-founder, was present at the Oct. 3 meeting. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Cook and Rihala indicated mutual interest in having Rihala become a city employee.

"Tigard was a great opportunity for me and I'm honored to be asked by council to join the city," Rihala wrote in an email Friday.

Asked what her experience has been in Tigard to date, she stated, "Tigard has been wonderful to work for. I will be joining a team of great people and serving a great community."

Referring to Rihala, Cook remarked, "Our assigned contract attorney has been serving us very capably for several years in this role and we wanted to keep her in that role if we could."

Rihala's salary as a city employee has yet to be determined. Wine is expected to report back with an employment agreement for the council to review and approve.

Tigard's city charter gives the council authority to appoint a city attorney. The council acted Oct. 3 in accordance with Wine's recommendation as city manager.

"I think that from a staff perspective, our review from a performance standpoint is that we greatly value the services of Shelby Rihala, and also of Tim and the Jordan Ramis team, in providing (legal) services, and we'd like to ask the council to consider a different model that involves an in-house city attorney and an amended contract with Jordan Ramis," Wine said at the meeting.

Rihala has been working as general counsel to four other cities, including Tigard's neighbor King City, and a port district.

Beaverton, Lake Oswego, Portland and Tualatin, other neighbors of Tigard, all have in-house city attorneys.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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