The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 15, 2014

Officials will research options for replacing city attorney

By Brenden West Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON -- A city that’s unsure what to do with its city attorney vacancy got some helpful advice from an attorney whose been there.

Clinton City Administrator Jessica Kinser spelled out the situation at hand during the city council’s Tuesday Committee of the Whole meeting. Contracting with Frey, Haufe and Current, P.L.C. last week bought the city a little time to properly replace resignee Jeff Farwell. Now the council must decide what it actually wants to do: it can hire another full-time staff member or contract services out to another firm.

Both decisions offer pros and cons, Kinser said.

“Neither one is something we can just start on tomorrow,” she said.

By hiring another attorney, Clinton will continue what it’s done in the past. On hand to endorse the less charted option was attorney Pat O’Connell.

“Most cities of this size range have been doing this a lot lately,” said O’Connell, a member of the Cedar Rapids-based Lynch-Dallas law group. As a Clinton native, he said he’s followed the recent council activities with interest. He originally contacted Kinser to inquire about being involved in a request for proposal should Clinton choose contracted services.

Lynch-Dallas contracts with a number of cities in the east-central region, including Burlington and Washington.

“I think it would be a fantastic idea to issue an RF(P) and see what you get in response,” O’Connell.

Without an attorney controlled by the city, some questioned if availability would become an issue.

“With the cities I’m working with now, they don’t find that we’re not responsive,” O’Connell said. “When I say ‘we,’ I really mean I consider myself the city attorney. When they call they usually want to talk to me. I have four or five partners who specialize in this kind of work -- four or five of those folks are really steeped in city, county, municipal type work.”

Should Clinton choose contracted services, its work won’t be finished though. Kinser said the council would have to re-word its Code of Ordinances to evaluate what duties firms would fulfill. One example she brought up was the fact that Farwell also performed human resources tasks, something the city won’t likely find through a service contract.

The code also states Clinton’s attorney must be a resident of the city, which eliminates groups that specialize in this type of counsel (O’Connell’s among them).

The discussion also revealed that Clinton’s most comparable cities don’t employ full-time attorneys.

Kinser was directed to continue to research and to present the council with what an RFP might look like, cost estimates and an evaluation of city attorney duties. The council didn’t rule out either option.

Determann unsettled by audit delay

Councilmembers continued the strategic plan discussion, Tuesday, where Kinser presented a draft of what the council said it hoped to achieve, Jan. 8. The conversation, again, found its way to the status of Clinton’s financial reports, and the city administrator explained the results of the city’s audit won’t be known for some time.

Kinser said the city was behind on its audit, citing the lengthy process of compiling the data and learning curve from working with a new firm. Those results won’t be available until near March, after the city’s budget deadline.

New councilman Tom Determann said with finality that will “never” happen again.

“I think what we’re trying to say is that’s unacceptable,” Determann said. “We won’t be accepting it again.”

He said he’s remembered worked with the city during past audits, and that there was an “uncooperation of staff.”

“It has happened,” Determann said. “We have high expectations and they will be met.”

The city has outlined four main goals: maintain and improve financial position; enhance communication with employees; contribute to healthy community environment; and improve the Clinton’s organization and services. Kinser outlined objectives beneath each goal and councilmembers requested to add establishing a finance committee and having a $1 million cash reserve to the list.

Although city leaders will wait to know the official state of the coffers, Kinser said they will have statements to inform them on budget creation.

“You’re going to receive an abundance of information that I don’t think excludes you from setting a budget,” Kinser said.

The city also discussed having a Saturday work session to continue to hammer out details. No official session was set up during Committee of the Whole.