Natalia Harris hits the ground running as Delaware's new city attorney
Natalia Harris is quite acquainted with the duties required by her new job as Delaware city attorney.
She was an assistant city attorney in Columbus for 11 years and spent most of that time working in civil and administrative law.
Harris became Delaware city attorney Oct. 21, succeeding Darren Shulman, who left Delaware to become city attorney for Upper Arlington.
Harris was named interim city attorney Sept. 1 and became the city’s prosecutor -- handling cases in the countywide Delaware Municipal Court, among other duties -- in July 2019.
The city attorney's duties include directing the city prosecuting staff, preparing legislation for City Council and other tasks ranging from negotiating legal agreements to advising council during its meetings.
Because she also worked a number of years in the city of Cincinnati’s Prosecution Division and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office, Harris said, "my experience (as a city attorney) sometimes gets lost."
Even as a prosecutor in Cincinnati, "there were times I was involved in the legislative process, as well,” she said.
“It's not something that's completely foreign to me, although it definitely is a shift from what your primary responsibilities are as a prosecutor,” she said. “What I have been able to do in the time frame I've been here is draw on those past experiences and expand on them in the course of doing the work, and I think that it's coming together."
A big part of the job, she said, involves working with City Council, Delaware's elected legislative body.
"I've presented information in front of (Columbus) council. I've represented council in different administrative proceedings,” she said. “When I was in Cincinnati, I was the representative of the law department to (council's) law and public-safety committee, where I actually was the stand-in representative for the law department in that capacity."
Frequent contact with the community also is part of the job, she said.
"I just finished assisting City Manager (Tom) Homan and assistant city manager (Kyle) Kridler, in addition to (local) human-service agencies, to create the agreement for the CARES Act grant partnership (for financial relief from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic),” she said. “The CARES Act is something that is new in and of itself. We crafted the agreement around that new aspect of that (federal) legislation."
Harris said she appreciates that the city attorney works closely with the city prosecutor's staff.
"One of the things appealing about the position is the city prosecutor reports to the city attorney, which gives the city attorney the ability to be a part of the operation,” she said. “In my mind, I did not have to completely walk away from the practice of criminal law in order to serve the community in this capacity.”
Homan said he’s looking forward to working with Harris.
“I have gotten to know Natalia personally and professionally in her time as prosecutor and interim city attorney and have the utmost confidence in her legal abilities and her understanding of the workings of the city of Delaware,” he said in a news release. “I look forward to a strong working relationship that serves all the citizens of Delaware.”
Harris said a focus on service to the public is a priority of Delaware city government. As she was interviewed for the job, she said, directors of different city departments emphasized "how they perceive their responsibility to citizens and each other.”
“It's definitely a demonstration of why Delaware is as successful as it is,” she said. “It's definitely noticeable everyone recognizes what the common goal is and prioritizes that over everything else."
She said Delaware has been welcoming.
“I will expand that to beyond the city of Delaware to even the county officials that I have interacted with in the short amount of time that I've been here," Harris said. "Last year, when I came here, the theme that everyone chose is 'if you need anything, let me know. Let know if there's any way I can assist you.' And throughout the year, there were times where I had to call people for assistance, and everyone that I called has done exactly what they indicated they would. Everyone was very helpful, especially with the challenges presented by the pandemic, and working corroboratively."
Harris began her duties with an annual salary of $124,779, according to the news release.
She’ll also receive retirement benefits and health, dental and life insurance, as well as a cellphone allowance, tuition reimbursement and other benefits, according to Lee Yoakum, the city’s spokesman. Benefits values usually average 30% to 50% of salary.