The city of Hamilton is once again interviewing candidates to head up the city’s legal department. The search became necessary after Stephen Spracklin left his post after less than a year on the job. A city email would only say Spracklin is leaving to “pursue another opportunity” outside Hamilton. A source familiar with the matter said Spracklin was seen as an up-and-comer with vision, but ran into resistance about his recommendations for reorganizing the department and quit. Spracklin was given the job in February, 2021 after city solicitor Nicole Auty – who advised the city on the sewage spill fallout – was let go. During her four-year tenure there was high turnover in the department—one source suggesting as many as 17 moved on. For her part, Auty replaced Janice Atwood-Petkovski who retired and is now back as half of Hamilton’s Integrity Commissioner team.
Atwood-Petkovski replaced the late Peter Barkwell who was beloved by his staff but was terminated by the city in 2012 apparently after negative publicity around his disagreement with the provincial ombudsman over in-camera meetings. Prior to his termination Barkwell had been the longest serving city solicitor, having served since 2004 and having been a city employee for 20 years. He replaced Rand Roszell who was appointed the amalgamated city’s first solicitor in 2000 but was let go in 2003 after the legal department underwent a review to determine if it could be reorganized or even privatized. Roszell quicky landed on his feet, becoming the Director of Legal Services for the Attorney Generals Department with a raise in salary.
Part of the issue appears to be talent. An observer noted that while municipal law provides job and income certainty, for a top candidate, it doesn’t have the income potential that a position in a private firm can provide. Young lawyers will sometimes see working in a municipal law office as a means of gaining experience and then moving into private practice. Add to that, the person who heads a municipal legal department needs to have a breadth of experience in a wide variety of branches of the law, from real estate to litigation, in order to manage the diversity of files that confront a municipality.