Why wouldn’t leaders want to get legal advice?
Believe us when we write this: We would like it to end. It just won’t.
Some may be tired of hearing about the Fairmont City Council and its divide over how best to provide the city with legal representation. It has been a months-long controversy. But it’s not going away. It is getting worse.
On Monday, the City Council will take up a new issue related to the matter. Councilman Tom Hawkins has proposed that the city begin a process to remove a requirement in City Code that the City Attorney attend all council meetings. This would have to be done by ordinance, with a public hearing and then a final vote.
Hawkins is the council member who led the effort to push former City Attorney Libby Bloomquist out of her job. She had served the city for 30 years prior. Now he wants to erase any presence of a City Attorney at council meetings.
What in the world is going on?
If you have attended council meetings over the years — as city staff, council members and Sentinel reporters have — you know that Bloomquist offered indispensable advice to city leaders on many occasions. Whether Bloomquist or someone else occupies the chair, why would city officials not want to cover their backsides by making sure they are proceeding legally when they contemplate decisions?
Hawkins is not a lawyer. City adminstrator Mike Humpal is not a lawyer. No other member of the council is a lawyer. City staff members are experts in their fields, but none of those fields is law.
When council members have questions about public works, they ask city engineer Troy Nemmers. He attends council meetings. When they want to ask about policing, they talk to Chief Mike Hunter. He attends council meetings. When they have questions about city finances, they ask budget director Paul Hoye. He attends council meetings. The answers all of them provide have a double benefit of informing city leaders and the public.
When it comes to legal matters, though, Hawkins wants to toss the benefits in the trash. But when the city gets sued because it made a stupid decision without legal advice, it will not be Hawkins covering the bill. It will be the taxpayers of Fairmont.