By Kevin Kelley
A proposal to restructure the city’s law department by reducing the number of assistant law directors from four to two has been dropped by City Council. At a May 8 council committee meeting, law Director John Wheeler successfully argued that the current structure is better.
Under the current city statutes, the law department consists of the elected law director, two assistant law directors for civil matters and two assistant law directors for criminal matters. The assistant law directors are appointed by the law director and confirmed by City Council.
Dispensing with the restructuring proposal one way or another became critical given recent departures by two assistant law directors. Bill Huffman, who handled civil affairs, retired in December. Andrea Rocco, the city prosecutor, recently resigned after being appointed Cuyahoga County clerk of courts.
Robin Leasure continues as an assistant director for civil matters, and Sean Kelleher is a municipal prosecutor.
In 2009, at the height of the economic recession and the ensuing loss of tax revenue, Ward 1 Councilman Ed Hack introduced legislation that would allow for one assistant law director for criminal affairs and another for civil matters.
Wheeler told Council members that the two-prosecutor structure is best because of the volume of Westlake criminal cases at the Rocky River Municipal Court. Drunk driving and domestic violence cases, in particular, can take a great deal of a prosecutor’s time, Wheeler said. The law director said the case load averages about 45 hours each week and is best handled by two prosecutors, as Westlake cases are usually heard on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“I don’t think the one-prosecutor model fits us,” Wheeler said.
The number of applicants will shrink if the prosecutor position requires 40 or more hours a week, Wheeler added.
Much of the May 8 committee meeting was spent discussing new mandates of the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, which requires employers to provide benefits to employees working more than 30 hours each week. City Council is currently considering an ordinance that would limit part-time employees to no more than 25 hours each week to avoid the benefit requirement. That proposal will be discussed at a May 29 committee meeting.
Health care benefits have always been offered to assistant law directors, even though they are technically part-time employees, Wheeler noted.
However, council members said they want the city to be consistent across all departments regarding which employees are offered health insurance.
Wheeler said he wanted to be certain on this issue before interviewing candidates for the vacant city prosecutor position.
Wheeler and council agreed that the top prosecutor position, labeled “Civil Assistant I” in the statutes, will require more than 30 hours each week and include medical benefits. The second prosecutorial position will be for 25 hours or less and not include benefits. The top civil assistant law director post will likely require more than 30 hours and include benefits.
Wheeler said the second civil assistant law director position will remain vacant for now.
Council intentionally defeated the restructuring plan at its May 16 meeting.