By Brenden West
CLINTON — Tuesday's vote showcased a narrow margin and a difficult — but important — decision facing the Clinton City Council. By a 4-3 count, Council members directed a resolution approving Cedar Rapids firm Lynch Dallas as Clinton's next city attorney be drafted for the next regular Council meeting on April 22.
"These two are probably the best two firms we could have come up with," Councilman Ed O'Neill said. "I think we're at a point where we as a group have a four-door sedan... Right now, we're in the market and we need a pickup truck."
The Council picked over last week's interviews between Lynch Dallas and Clinton-based Frey, Haufe and Current. Both firms lent advantages: FHC filled an interim legal services agreement and maintained local rapport; Lynch Dallas — led by Clinton native Pat O'Connell — presented a strong case for experienced municipal legal advice with a larger group of experts to access.
What ultimately swayed the minds of O'Neill, John Rowland, Grant Wilke and Paul Gassman was the experience and resources provided from the latter. While the council commended FHC and attorney John Frey for work accomplished over the last three months with the city, those Councilmen said they were leery of whether the smaller, three-man firm could handle the numerous legal issues facing Clinton.
"(Frey) is adament about doing all of his own preparation," said O'Neill, adding he felt this was a driving force behind former city attorney Jeff Farwell's resignation in December. "The big plus about hiring Lynch Dallas is they have five certified paralegals."
Rowland and O'Neill also questioned Frey's "gatekeeper" response, in which the attorney said it would be cost effective to have City Administrator Jessica Kinser be a liaison between elected officials and the firm. Communication, they said, was pivotal, and the fact that Lynch Dallas assured them availability gave the firm an edge.
"Based on the numerous services offered, the decision to hire should clearly go to Lynch Dallas," Rowland said.
FHC supporters countered that the group has established a great local reputation, evidenced by the firm's recent work with the city. Mayor Mark Vulich and Council members Tom Determann, Julie Allesee and Lynn McGraw agreed it was important to keep the city's money local.
"I feel that John Frey, when he looks at a document, he's very thorough at what he does," Vulich added. "I don't think the fact that John wants to do his own research is necessarily a detriment."
Others spoke highly of Frey's character.
"I have found him to be extremely honest; a caring person who's always prepared," Allesee said.
Rowland motioned to draft the ordinance approving Lynch Dallas as Clinton's next legal team. Barring a change in circumstances, the city will appoint O'Connell and company by the end of the month.
Both firms were at City Hall for the discussion but left Council chambers to avoid impropriety during the hiring process.