The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 10, 2014

City Council unanimous on temporary counsel

By Brenden West
Assistant Editor

CLINTON — A major hole on city staff hasn’t been entirely filled, but following Thursday’s unanimous Clinton City Council approval, the law group Frey, Haufe and Current, P.L.C. will serve as the temporary patch to cover while city leaders begin the search for a full-time city attorney.

That conversation is slated to begin next week, as Mayor Mark Vullich announced during the afternoon special meeting that finding a new city attorney is on the agenda for Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. This in the wake of Jeff Farwell’s resignation.

“The Committee of the Whole that takes place on Tuesday that is an agenda item,” Vullich said. “We will have an actual Committee of the Whole discussion about the plan.”

FHC was the only group slated for approval by the council. Now, Clinton and the firm are under a limited engagement counsel contract that stipulates temporary legal representation while waiving conflict of interest with other groups the firm represents within the city. FHC is billing the city at a rate of $160 per hour.

Potential conflicts of interest, labeled by FHC include the Clinton Business Park Development Corporation - currently in a development agreement with the city. FHC also jointly represents Clinton and the Clinton Regional Development Corp. as special counsel related to the Lincolnway Rail Park. And Attorney Randy Current represents the Clinton County Board of Supervisors.

“We wanted to be sure this change in circumstances did not affect (those situations),” said attorney John Frey on behalf of the firm. “We’re here to help if you want us to help. It’s dangerous to operate without having your staff and yourselves having access to legal advice.”

The council has the right to terminate the contract immediately. If FHC chooses to terminate, it must provide 30 days written notice.

“We might serve the city for a day, or two or three or five or 10,” Frey said. “If they’re not happy with our services, they can terminate us immediately. ... If you find somebody that you think can provide a better situation for the city, all you have to do is send us a notice and say, ‘Thanks fellas, we’ve made arrangements with somebody else.’ “

Before Vullich spoke on Tuesday’s COW agenda, Ward 3 Councilman Ed O’Neill proposed an amendment that would ensure termination of the temporary contract after no more than 60 days. This, he reasoned, would urge the council to move swiftly to find a full-time or interim city attorney. He was seconded by At-large Councilman John Rowland.

“Things do get dragged out and take more time than they should,” O’Neill said. “This will put the pressure on us to decide what we want to do permanently.”

O’Neill said the amendment was to put the constraint on the council, not on FHC. Frey advised against it, stating such a clause would mean that FHC could terminate its contract without notice immediately after the 60-day “sunset period” by choosing not to renew the contract with the city.

After finding out permanent attorney talks will soon be on the table, both O’Neill and Rowland withdrew their motions for the amendment. Both were part of the 7-0 approval of the agreement.

Rowland expressed relief that important discussions will continue into next week.

“That’s all I want to hear, that we’ve got a way to deal with it,” he said, referring to the 2013 10-month search for a permanent city administrator. The city eventually hired interim Jessica Kinser full-time, but now, without an attorney, Rowland said the city is looking to replace another one of its two most important employees.

“I’m glad that the question of hiring a city attorney either by contract or by maybe directly hiring somebody will be addressed from the start next Tuesday night at the council meeting,” Rowland said. “It needs to be filled reasonably quick with due diligence of some kind.”

The council will reconvene on Tuesday during its Committee of the Whole meeting at 7 p.m.