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January 15, 2010 at 3:10 PM

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Pete Holmes a hit with the Seattle City Council

Posted by Emily Heffter

I wrote a story recently about how Seattle's new city attorney, Pete Holmes, is facing criticism for how he's handled staffing changes in his office.

But his ideas and style were popular Thursday at a Seattle City Council retreat, where he answered questions for about an hour.

"I've been pleased with the approach we've seen," Councilmember Tim Burgess told Holmes.

Burgess supported Holmes' opponent, Tom Carr, in the election, even holding a Carr fundraiser at his Queen Anne home.

Holmes told the council that not all legal questions are black and white, and he plans to give them an idea of how risky an idea is, rather than tell them only whether he thinks their idea is legal or not. Then, he said, it's the job of the city attorney to work with the legislative body, "where we're actually collaborating" to reduce risk.

Holmes also plans to begin making public some of his legal opinions. Under the past two city attorneys, Carr and Mark Sidran, opinions weren't made public because the two attorneys argued they were protected by the attorney/ client privilege.

Some might be protected, but Holmes said if city resources are used to reach a conclusion, "it just makes economic sense that those be made available to the city."

Publishing opinions is part of Holmes' goal to make sure lessons are learned after civil lawsuits against the city, he said. It's expensive for the city to keep getting sued over the same issues, so Holmes wants to follow up with departments that have lost a suit to seek ways to avoid facing the same claim later.

Holmes also revealed that he has already spoken with some of the law firms with whom the city does business to tell them he plans to put their contracts online and open up bids to other firms.

Currently, the city has a few go-to law firms it uses when it needs to contract out legal work.

"I think I have a responsibility to the city to make sure that, especially in a recession, we're taking advantage of bargain rates" at law firms, he said.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
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Kyung Song
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Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.