FLORENCE — Florence City Council met Monday evening and, among a handful of other matters, such as financial reviews, requests for assistance and potential arborist contracts, the question of hiring a a permanent city attorney was discussed.
City Manager Tom Piltingsrud brought the new application for the position by local solicitor Brock Miller to the attention of council for discussion.
The response was mixed.
Councilman Rudl Mergelman and Mayor Paul Villigrana seemed to agree with the idea of hiring a local entity.
“I would like to make a motion that we offer Brock Miller the position of city attorney,” Mergelman said.
Several board members strongly disagreed.
“My concern is that it’s going to be done the old city government way,” Councilwoman Kathryn Johanna Nabors said. “Hiring people who aren’t prepared or don’t have the experience to handle the job and I have big concerns every time you transfer someone to a job under these circumstances there’s a lot of room to error.”
Nabors cited that Miller’s paralegal had questionable material during his initial background check.
Councilor Steve Wolfe asked if Piltingsrud had received any responses from either candidate regarding the questionnaires sent to them. Piltingsrud said yes, however, the candidates’ respective responses were not included in the City Council’s brief for the night’s meeting, but can be obtained through the Acting City Clerk.
Mergelman then reiterated his admiration for Miller as a lawyer, but also emphasized his personal desire to move forward.
“We have legal questions from residents…and we’re falling further and further behind,” he said. “Two months is more than enough to make a decision and get us a lawyer.”
Supporting Nabors’ concerns, Councilwoman Gibson had similar thoughts.
“He (Miller) attended one city council meeting in the three years he lived here,” she said. “He has no experience of that type, we will go back further.”
Mayor Villagrana described his desire for a local person to be chosen as the new city attorney.
“We need a lawyer and I don’t think many more months of looking for one will solve our problem. I think we need it as soon as possible,” he said.
The rift widened to the point that Councilman James Vanhoutan recommended postponing the possibility until the next meeting – at which time Mergelman rescinded his motion.
Several Florence residents have questioned the possibility of the new city attorney, including Tim Jordan and Kathy Madonna.
Jordan pointed out that the $75,000 budgeted for the city attorney might not be enough to lure a stellar attorney to the city of Florence.
“Brock Miller might want to come here, but we might not be able to afford it,” he said.
Madonna cited the general drama in the city and her hopes that the city will be diligent in its search.
“We rushed in and everyone thought Sean Garret was a good guy…it was a rushed decision that wouldn’t have been a good decision,” she said. “We’re in a situation where we have multiple lawsuits, we have a trial coming up, we need protection and just because we have a lawyer doesn’t mean it’s a lawyer we need.”
Council then moved on to other business, which included a discussion regarding the process for hiring the next City Manager.
Wolfe introduced a motion to create a subcommittee of three City of Florence staff and two City Council members who would develop job search objectives, such as job description, job requirements, salary expectations, selection process and timeline for the new City Manager. He also mentioned the possibility of finding a recruitment company to carry out the hiring process.
Acting city attorney Nick Poppe recommended the item be opened up for further discussion at future council meetings – which Wolfe agreed to and rescinded the motion.
It will likely be open for discussion at the October 17 city council meeting.