The Haines Borough has hired new legal help.

On the recommendation of manager Mark Earnest, the assembly voted 6-0 last month to dump the Anchorage firm of attorney Michael Gatti and hire Brooks Chandler of Boyd, Chandler and Falconer.

Earnest told the assembly he’s worked with Chandler’s firm in his past manager positions and he described it as “responsive, knowledgeable and efficient.” The firm represents Whittier, Unalaska, Soldotna, Dillingham and Nome.

“There are a lot of factors that go into what constitutes legal services, in terms of lawsuits and large projects, but my concern is we’re going through between $13,000 and $14,000 a month,” Earnest said, heading toward an annual legal bill of between $150,000 and $200,000.

“I’ve proposed (a legal budget) of $75,000. That’s a closer number to what my experience has been,” he said, even while working in Unalaska, which had a large volume of ordinances and projects.

In a proposal to keep its Haines contract, Gatti’s firm said it was “sensitive to the budget concerns faced by municipal governments” and was thus discounting its fees to $195 per hour for senior counsel. Chandler made an identical bid, saying it was a discount from his standard hourly rate of $225 per hour.

Two other Anchorage firms submitted proposals: Hughes, Gorski, Seedorf, Odsen and Tervooren, who represent Anchorage and the Denali Borough, at $200 hour; and Walker and Levesque of Anchorage, lawyers for Valdez and Homer, who bid $175 per hour.

In the written proposal, Gatti explained fees charged to the borough as resulting from turnover in the manager’s position that “resulted in higher than expected reliance on the firm’s legal services” as well as defending the borough against two lawsuits.

Other legal matters included “outstanding, complex tax issues,” negotiation of a 20-year land lease under the Delta Western tank farm, and borough acquisition of the Crystal Cathedrals Water and Sewer System.

In addition, the borough made many requests for code revisions, Gatti said. His firm held the borough contract 11 months.

Borough staff formerly acknowledged Gatti had a bigger workload than Bob Blasco, the borough’s previous attorney, but said the increase in cost seemed disproportionate to the assignments.

Assembly members made only a few comments before backing the switch. Scott Rossman said he wondered how the change would be different from other times the borough has replaced legal counsel.

“This is my third time through this lawyer thing, and when your read the proposals… this guy, that guy, throw them up in the air and decide. I’m going to defer to the manager’s expertise. If he’s happy with this guy, I’m overjoyed because I don’t know what else to do,” Rossman said.

Assemblyman Norm Smith previously was among members pushing for a change, calling Gatti’s billing’s “exhorbitant” at recent meetings. He was quiet before voting for Chandler, saying only, “Let’s get divorced here.”

Rossman also noted the borough has previously brought attorney candidates to town for interviews. “I’m thinking back to the other times. We did this big interview thing and they came here and sat here and we’re not doing that this time. That was a long, drawn-out process, and this is wham-bam.”

Among the first assignments put to Chandler is reviewing the borough’s election laws as well as borough clerk Julie Cozzi’s proposed changes in code aimed at avoiding future legal controversies about counting write-in ballots.

Cozzi and Gatti’s firm were at the center of a dispute over which votes to count during last fall’s municipal election. The borough lost the suit and the election results were overturned in court.