WARSAW — City Council continued a conversation about hiring its own attorney for legal counsel during its Nov. 18 meeting.
Discussion on hiring an attorney specifically for city council first surfaced in March after several council members expressed concern with an incident involving Warsaw Police Chief Scott Whitaker. Supporters of the plan, though, say they have no specific issues of concern and just want the service to be available.
Council President Diane Quance began the discussion among council members and City Attorney Scott Reust. Quance and Reust both said discussions have been conducted with attorneys for the cities of Indianapolis, South Bend, and Fort Wayne, as well as Indiana Municipal Lawyers Association Attorney Jodie Woods, on how to hire its own attorney for legal matters.
“I believe they’ve identified Doug Lehman to be the potential hire for this,” said Reust. “I’ve spoken with him numerous times. He was the city attorney for the city of Wabash for 12 years. He’s got a great deal of municipal experience, so I think he’s certainly qualified.”
Reust said through his research, no Class 3 cities in Indiana have hired outside legal counsel. Those distinctions for cities are determined by population. Indianapolis is the only Class 1 city in the state, with South Bend and Fort Wayne listed as Class 2 cities. Warsaw falls into the Class 3 category.
“The statute I’m also looking at is Indiana 36-4-6-24, which states, ‘The legislative body may hire or contract with competent attorneys and legal research assistants on terms it considers appropriate,'” said Reust. “So in talking to these other places that have a legislative body who have hired outside counsel, they’re pretty clear in defining that ‘legislative body’ doesn’t mean providing consultation or advice to council persons. It’s providing consultation and advice for the entire legislative body. What I’m finding is this Indiana code does not provide for individual council people to reach out like that.”
The conversation between Reust, Quance and council members Mike Klondaris and Ron Shoemaker primarily focused on the definition of “legislative body.”
“What I’m being told is that if the statute contemplated a council person could employ outside legal counsel, it would say a council person,” said Reust. “But under this statute, it’s not contemplated.”
Quance asked Reust how the city council would best receive legal advice from their potential hired attorney.
“So if we wanted to get advice, we would need to publicly come, state what we wanted, and there would need to be a vote at city council in order to retain the attorney?” asked Quance.
“That’s what I’m being told,” said Reust. “For the attorney to provide advice to the legislative body, they would have to be public discussions on what you would want this attorney to provide on advice.”
“You have said to me, as did the previous city attorney, ‘You need your own attorney,'” said Klondaris. “And everybody keeps telling us, ‘You need your own attorney.’ But every time we try to do it, we keep running into a roadblock of some sort.”
“Well, I think the roadblock you have here is the statute,” said Reust. “This would be the first third-class city to do that. And we want to do it right if we’re going to set a new precedent for other third-class cities. It’s just turned out to be very difficult because I think the statute hamstrings what we could use an outside legal counsel for.”
After a half-hour discussion on the matter, Mayor Joe Thallemer asked the attorney research committee, made up of Quance, Klondaris and Shoemaker, to meet with Reust at a later time for further discussion.
“If this issue needs to be put on the agenda for the next meeting, that’s fine,” said Thallemer. “I would just ask that your committee meet with the city attorney and work through what’s being talked about tonight.”
In other business, Councilman Jerry Frush asked if the council could propose a budget cut during the meeting. Frush made a motion to remove $3,500 from the Warsaw Police Department’s budget for a motorcycle. The motion passed 4-3, with Frush, Klondaris, Shoemaker and Councilwoman Cindy Dobbins voting in favor of the budget cut.
The council also:
- Scheduled a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, in regards to the city’s 1782 Notice. The Department of Local Government Finance provides political subdivisions with a preliminary budget order specifying any changes the department proposes in a subdivision’s taxi levy or tax rate. City Council has 10 calendar days from the date the notice was received to provide a response to the DLGF.
- Approved an ordinance amending the city’s personnel handbook. The amendment would allow new hires to receive one vacation day after 90 days of employment and two vacation days after 180 days of employment.
The council’s next regular meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 2.