Pair of city officials’ actions disconcerting

Two Fairmont City Council members (Tom Hawkins and Randy Lubenow) recently approached the City Attorney and told her they planned to propose (at the April 22 council meeting) to change the city’s attorney services from in-house to contract. In other words, they were planning to fire her. They thought telling her was a “courtesy.”

The duo’s fellow council members later learned about all this in an email from Hawkins. He had chosen not to first talk to them or city staff to get their input. He thought the decision (the termination) should come first, then the council could consider what to do next.

There are five council members. Perhaps Hawkins thought there would be a third vote for his plan, although it is not clear he knew it ahead of time. Other council members say they were not in the loop. If one of them was, then questions about an open meeting law violation would have to be asked.

In any case, some of Hawkins’ colleagues objected. Firing the City Attorney would create chaos at City Hall and in the local court system, they note. Nor does it make financial sense, they say.

The result was a council work session on Monday that laid bare the “interesting” process and decisions noted above. The meeting was not always pleasant, as council members disagreed vehemently at times. We do not believe every city leader is equally to blame in this matter, but we cannot help but notice the dysfunction among people who are supposed to have one overriding concern: the citizens of Fairmont.

Perhaps they can all still get on the same page. Hawkins agreed Monday to pull his proposal to terminate the City Attorney’s employment. He said he would instead ask for an assessment of what is the best choice for the city: an in-house attorney or contracting for legal services. His most vocal critic, Mayor Debbie Foster, agreed that such an assessment could be valuable. Lubenow said he too wants more information before any decision is made.

So, things ended up where they probably should have begun. But if you were an attorney, or any other job-seeker, would you want to come work for the city right now?

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