Edinburg moves city attorney in-house

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Just two weeks after Edinburg announced the pending departure of Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa, officials moved toward changing how the city attorney office will function.

Instead of contracting for legal services, Edinburg will have an in-house attorney who works for the city full-time.

“The draft ordinance as presented would include in ordinance a requirement that the city attorney be an in-house, full-time employee subject to all the employment policy and guidelines,” Ochoa said during an Edinburg City Council meeting on Tuesday.

“(It) also makes clear that they report to the city manager,” Ochoa added.

The council unanimously approved the change of direction for the city’s legal department, with some councilmen quipping about Ochoa’s pending departure.

“This is the one that forces Omar not to leave, right?” Place 1 Councilman Dan Diaz said with a laugh.

A moment later, Diaz commented on Ochoa’s dedication to serving the city while also maintaining a thriving private legal practice.

“Didn’t you ever see his truck? It’s always parked here at city hall because there’s a lot of work,” Diaz said.

“Thank you. It’s a full-time job, so it’ll be a nice thing for the city” to have an in-house attorney, Ochoa replied.

With the change to the ordinance, future Edinburg city attorneys will now be full-time employees of the city working within a newly created “legal department.”

The city council will continue to have hiring and firing authority over the position; however, the city attorney will fall beneath the city manager within the city’s administrative hierarchy.

As the second largest city in Hidalgo County, Edinburg officials felt the city’s explosive growth has reached the point where a dedicated city attorney is warranted.

“(T)he City of Edinburg has experienced and continued to experience tremendous growth in population and economic activity resulting in exponential growth in the amount of City services required to maintain and nurture continued growth,” the amended ordinance reads, in part.

With the council’s unanimous support, Edinburg has become one of just a few cities in the Rio Grande Valley to implement a city-run legal department with full-time staff attorneys.

In Hidalgo County, the city of McAllen’s legal department boasts a stable of four attorneys, led by Isaac Tawil.

The city of Mission also has an in-house legal department, though that position has remained vacant since the most recent Mission city attorney, Victor Flores, abruptly resigned in January.

Mission is currently relying on Weslaco-based law firm Jones, Galligan, Key & Lozano to fill its legal needs on a contract basis.

Over in Cameron County, Brownsville — the Valley’s largest city — also has an in-house legal team consisting of four attorneys, including Brownsville City Attorney Will Treviño.

Other large cities in the Valley continue to rely on contracted legal services, including the city of Pharr, which contracts with former Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo P. Rodriguez Jr., and Harlingen, which contracts with Brownsville-based attorney, Mark Sossi, according to that city’s website.

Back in Edinburg, Ochoa has committed to continuing to serve the city until his successor is found.

Ochoa reflected on his five-year tenure as the Edinburg city attorney.

“It has been an honor and a thrill to serve my hometown and work alongside the dedicated professionals at the City of Edinburg,” he stated in a news release earlier this month.