WU Council Defers Decisions

July 28, 2015

At the behest of Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly, the West U City Council on Monday delayed a routine decision on a new law firm to collect the city’s outstanding municipal court fines and the council’s own rules of procedure.

Although city staff had recommended that West U award the contract to the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson,.Kelly demanded that the item on the consent agenda be postponed for two weeks. He wanted a report from a committee of city staffers who reviewed three bids for the contract.

Although the contract was on the council’s consent agenda, which is usually reserved for non-controversial items, Kelly made it a controversy.

Attorney Mike Darlow, with the law firm of Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, asked the council to defer consideration of the contract for two weeks. Kelly later confirmed that Darlow had called him earlier in the day to ask for the delay.

A representative of the firm also wrote a two-page email to Mayor Susan Sample, although the city’s request for proposals specifically stated that “no lobbying” was allowed on the bid.

Another provision of the city’s request for proposals clearly stated that the interested law firms should have “no contact” with city officials or employees.

City Manager Michael Ross tried to explain that the firm had been disqualified by the staff panel because of the lobbying effort.

“There was a clear anti-lobbying provision” in the city’s request for bids, Ross said.

Kelly insisted that Darlow’s phone call “definitely was not lobbying.”

But Sample said the earlier e-mail she received from the Perdue law firm was “a rather long email” and that she “thought it was lobbying.”

Kelly then insisted that a law firm is “trained not to engage in violations of the law.”

Another provision of the request for proposals also clearly stated that there was to be “no contact” with city officials or staff.

“Inquiries shall not be made to other City officials or employees. Any inquiries made outside of this requirement will cause immediate disqualification of the potential Offeror,” the RFP stated.

Mike Swiwierka, a partner in the Perdue law firm, wrote an email to Mayor Sample in violation of that “no contact” provision on Friday, July 24.

In his email, Swiwierka wrote: “I think out law firm would be a good choice for the council and would like an opportunity to make a presentation to council or to the review committee.”

The request for proposals also imposed a deadline of  June 15, 2015.

The responses to the RFP were reviewed by a staff committee composed of Assistant City Manager Chris Peifer, City Finance Director Rhonda Daugherty, Police Chief Ken Walker,  City Secretary Thelma Lenz and Municipal Court Clerk Gaby Perez.

Kelly said he wanted “a little bit of a report” from the city staff explaining why the Linebarger firm was chosen.

Councilmember Mardi Turner seconded Kelly’s request to delay consideration of the contract, so the issue was delayed for two weeks.

The council also agreed to postpone consideration of the council’s own rules of procedure, due to the absences of Councilmembers Brennan Reilly and Burt Ballanfant. Both councilmen were out of town on vacation.

A former member of the West U Council spoke out against a proposed rules change that would allow a council member to call for a majority vote to cut off discussion of issues before the council.

“That provision is just not West U,” said former Councilmember Phyllis Cohen. “Cutting off debate is not what we are about.”

She noted that the four newly elected members of the council had campaigned on a pledge of bringing more transparency to municipal government. The proposed rules change, Cohen said, “Is the exact opposite of the transparency you promised when you ran for election.”

Former Councilman Dick Yehle address the council on their recent efforts to oust City Manager Michael Ross.

“The issue is we need to keep Michael Ross because he is doing a good job,” Yehle said.

Although Kelly spoke for about 15 minutes at the last council meeting about the city charter giving the council the “unfettered right” to hire the city manager, Yehle said, “I found it to be a lot of hot air.”

“Find the decency to expeditiously end their sordid situation. Let’s begin moving in a positive direction,” Yehle said.

West U residents Eddie Matthews and Jim Shields also spoke against the proposed rules change.

And, Shields echoed Yehle’s comments about Ross.

“If at all possible, just make this thing go away. Start behaving like friends and neighbors,” Shields said.

Shields also spoke directly to Kelly.

“You were a great mayor. Stop behaving this way,” Shields said.

The council did take action Monday night on approving a change to the City Code of Ordinances that will allow a new veterinary clinic to open in West U. After a meeting with neighbors near the proposed new clinic of Veterinarian Dr. Jan Jordan. Building and Standards Commission Steve Brown said “a compromise” was reached that satisfies all the parties. That compromise would require animals being treated at the clinic to be walked on the “commercial property” side of the new clinics, away from nearby residences.