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Cindy Laquidara, former city general counsel.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 18, 201412:00 PM EST

Ethics officer objects to bill to bring back Cindy Laquidara at $385 per hour

by: David Chapman

As the city’s general counsel for years, Cindy Laquidara served as the lead on several federal cases.

She retired July 1 to return to the private sector, but a bill filed by her replacement seeks to bring her back to continue those unresolved cases — at almost four times her city salary.

Carla Miller, the city’s ethics director, sees problems with the idea.

She sent a letter Thursday to acting general counsel Jason Gabriel detailing her concerns, the first of which is his request be considered an emergency by City Council. Presented as such, the bill would be voted up or down Tuesday, the first opportunity council and the public have a chance to weigh in on the matter.

The quick turnaround gives neither adequate time, Miller said Thursday evening.

The four cases are labeled in the bill as being at “critical stages” with “imminent deadlines.”

Miller contends that, if true, those issues should have been addressed months ago instead of last minute.

There are four cases of concern where Laquidara has been the lead attorney, the first starting in 2009. The second chair for most of them, Carol Mirando, also left the city in recent months. Each case has two additional support attorneys.

Two of those cases have court dates next month.

Laquidara, now an attorney with Akerman, would initially be paid up to $150,000 — or as Miller broke it down in her letter to Gabriel, four times the city’s hourly fee. She said Laquidara’s former $205,000 salary came in at about $98 an hour, with the proposal calling for an hourly rate of $385.

“There is a public expectation that city resources are efficiently used and appropriated,” Miller wrote. “There are most likely solutions to this situation that are more cost effective for the taxpayers and provide for more transparency and deliberation by Council.”

Gabriel responded to Miller by explaining the timing of the situation. The last filing deadline was June 18 and he took office July 1. The filing period for new legislation Wednesday was the first opportunity since he was in the position.

Council member John Crescimbeni said he sees Gabriel’s point about the upcoming court dates.

“We definitely got ourselves into a bad situation,” he said.

Crescimbeni said he has concerns about the amount being paid, which seem “excessive,” when private firms often have preferred rates for governments. He said he planned to call others Friday to research.

In addition, he said his view of a general counsel was someone who doesn’t serve as lead for so many cases and instead manages others.

“Part of the problem is Cindy got so involved,” he said.

Gabriel wrote he will request the matter to be placed on the agenda of a special Finance Committee meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday or that a publicly noticed special meeting be scheduled before the full council meets the same day at 5 p.m.

Crescimbeni said he expects the issue to come up during the former, but isn’t typically in favor of a quick turnaround that precludes normal review and citizen input.

Council President Clay Yarborough said Friday he sees valid points on both sides and is interested to hear more next week.

Miller is requesting the emergency portion of the bill be removed or the bill withdrawn.

“I really think this is a public trust issue, a transparency issue,” she said.

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