Attorney letter draws questions
For the second time in just over a month, a member of the Washington City Council questioned whether the final draft of a resolution is what the committee or the council had previously discussed.
During the regular Washington City Council meeting Wednesday evening, council member Bob Shepherd objected to a proposed agreement with new city attorney Kevin Olson, saying that the letter of agreement written from a conversation by Olson, Mayor Sandra Johnson and council member Merle Hagie did not include a transitional period for current city attorney Craig Arbuckle. Shepherd, a member of the search committee, said that the committee had discussed Arbuckle working a minimum of six months with the new city attorney.
“I was under the understanding that we were going to retain Craig in partnership for six months at least,” Shepherd said. “That has been discussed a number of times.”
Johnson said it wasn’t recorded in the minutes.
The letter of agreement, which was approved 4-2 with Shepherd and Council member Bob Shellmyer voting against it, serves as an employment contract. City administrator Brent Hinson explained the letter retains Olson’s services. Arbuckle confirmed it would act as a contract. Shepherd said that he didn’t have a problem with the city hiring Olson, but he objected to the letter not having all items discussed.
Shellmyer said that during interviews with the top candidates, all of whom are based outside of Washington County, the council had asked if they intended to use local counsel if needed. He said each of the candidates agreed they would. He said he didn’t remember discussing having dual attorneys. Arbuckle agreed that this is what he remembered of the discussions.
Johnson said that she had Hagie had expressed the desire for Olson to coordinate with Arbuckle to be the local attorney for not less than six months. She said that after the council signs the agreement, Olson would contact Arbuckle. Hinson said there is a draft of an agreement with Arbuckle.
“My expectation was always that there would be a period of time that we would have a chance to bring someone up to speed by tapping into the contacts and understanding that Craig has, for at least six months,” Shepherd said. “I thought it was appropriate to bring it up while we were discussing the contract.”
Council member Fred Stark said that an agreement between Olson and Arbuckle can be discussed after the arrangement is made with Olson.
Johnson said that she and Hagie had discussed items determined by the council at a work session. She said the proposal did not call for dual counsel.
“We discussed time, and time, and time again about a time period there would be a transition,” Shepherd said.
He said there had been a consensus and that he expected it to be carried out. Johnson said that she didn’t remember discussing dual counsel.
Hinson said that he believed the overlap would be October through December of this year and a six-month period where Arbuckle would be local counsel.
“That’s what I thought the six months covered, was to meet your requirements,” Hagie said. “If that is not the case, I guess there should have been someone besides me and the mayor.”
Shellmyer also questioned why the new city attorney’s salary specified only hourly rates. During discussion, the council and Olson had discussed a monthly flat rate.
Hagie said that a flat rate was not discussed. He said that the hourly rate was the basis for his consideration.
Shellmyer also asked if Olson would be present at one council meeting per month. Johnson said that she hoped to use “technology oriented discussion” to work with Olson.
Stark said that the council had received a copy of the letter about three days before the meeting, and that Shepherd had plenty of time to ask Hinson for the change. He later said that Shepherd was on the committee that brought the candidates to the council and then he voted against it.
“When it doesn’t say what I expected it to be, you’re … right,” Shepherd said.