The City of Port St. Lucie has gone through four city attorneys in four years. The current one, who will have headed the legal department a year this February, will be leaving just as soon as the city can hire his replacement.
Interim City Attorney Jim Stokes declined the city’s offer to become the permanent city attorney – a post that pays $200,000 annually – citing his inability to cover the needs of Port St. Lucie and his other legal responsibilities.
Stokes also serves as city attorney for the City of Sebastian in Indian River County, and provides legal assistance to other cities and also has his own practice.
He told the Port St. Lucie City Council Monday night that he would be willing to stay on as a consultant until such time as his replacement can be hired.
Both Mayor Gregory Oravec and Vice Mayor Shannon Martin were absent from the Monday meeting. Neither provided comment to be read into the record for discussion. Instead, the remaining three Council members – Mayor Pro Tem Jolien Caraballo, John Carvelli and Stephanie Morgan – discussed what should be done to fill the post.
Ultimately, they decided to postpone a decision until next week’s council meeting, when they expect the full panel to be on hand.
“This is very important,” Morgan said. She added that it requires having Oravec’s and Martin’s input before moving forward.
Still, the three council members voiced their own opinions on how the city should proceed. Carvelli, while praising Stokes for having built a strong team within the City Attorney’s Office, suggested that Port St. Lucie cast a nationwide net to search for a new city attorney. “I don’t want to rush this, I can tell you that,” Carvelli said.
Morgan said she believed there were qualified candidates already serving in the City Attorney’s Office. “We have consistency,” she said. “We have cohesiveness in the attorney’s office. It’s going smooth.”
For her part, Caraballo said she could see the merits of both a national and an internal search. The path the council takes could be decided at the Dec. 10 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. “The best person should shake out,” Carvelli said. He explained that a national search would not preclude local candidates from applying and going through the process.
The Port St. Lucie City Council hired professional recruiting firm Baenziger & Associates in 2016 to find a new city attorney. That search yielded Stokes, who was brought on board last February. The terms of the contract were such that if the recruit did not remain for two years, the firm would again provide its services.
Per the terms of the contract, the only fees charged to the city would be for reimbursement of Colin Baenziger’s cost. No estimate was provided. The city previously hired the firm for $24,500, a cost the city could expect to pay again if it were to seek a different recruiter.