City attorney(s) on the agenda

There are only 2 items on the regular agenda for Monday, 11/2 and one is action on new city attorneys (the other is approving a transfer of funds to allow the HRA to purchase foreclosed townhomes to use as rental property).

I said I wouldn’t comment on this issue before the Council acted and I don’t want to.   However, now the issue has become a media mini-referendum on the personal merits of our current legal counsel with City Attorney Swanson pleading her case and/or Tim Morisette’s case in long letters to the Council, extensive coverage of the “not local” issue in the Northfield News, and the comments of local attorneys and others  suggesting that if the Council votes to accept the search committee’s recommendation of new city attorneys we will be traitors to Northfield, local professionals, and the Lampe Law firm in particular.   

Here’s my position: I fully support the recommendations of the Mayor and the search committee.

On the civil side, I believe retaining an attorney who specializes in municipal issues (at a competitive $$ rate) is a wise move.   Having an attorney who works with many cities means having someone who has seen issues in a variety of contexts, can offer a range of possible solutions, can suggest changes which might prove helpful and help the city troubleshoot its policies in a forward thinking way.

I’m looking for a city attorney who will help the Council think ahead and think strategically about issues. As we consider a second large annexation, review capital improvements and tax questions, consider how to structure our staff and our finances to create a sustainable city, and bring new land development regulations on-line there are quite a few significant legal choices to make.  I want an attorney who understands the bigger picture of how cities operate and can offer advice which lets us make wise policy choices.  I’m confident that Chris Hood will do this.

That Mr Hood’s firm, Flaherty & Hood, is also involved in lobbying is a plus, not a minus.  We struggle with how state law constrains how we do business from tax law to land use – having an attorney who is involved with state lawmakers, knows what issues are coming up, knows what lawmakers are involved, and can help us plan our own lobbying efforts (which the Council has identified as something we should do more) is a big benefit, not a drawback.

On the prosecutorial side, I believe Elliot Knetsch of Campbell Knutson offers a cost savings and brings much experience with relevant issues, can quickly earn any quirky local issues involved in practicing in the 3rd rather than 1st judicial district, and can be equally responsive to Northfield’s needs.   As a Council member, I’ll see less of the city prosecutor than our civil attorney, but I’m confident Mr. Knetsch will work effectively with the police department and other staff to prosecute violations of city law.

I met with both recommended attorneys and I am impressed with their understanding of Northfield, their interest in the job, the resources of their firms, and their desire to work with the Council and relevant City Staff.   Critics have offered statements but little evidence that changing attorneys will cost more and offer less; I think the opposite is true.


8 thoughts on “City attorney(s) on the agenda

  1. Betsey:

    Hood represents has represented 2 cities Park Rapids and Sartell. Essentially, he has almost NO experience in providing counsel to cities.

    On the criminal side, I know that Mr. Morisette is willing to negotiate on price, and other attorneys would also get in the process.

    That so few local attorneys applied speaks volumes. Furthermore, I haven’t heard one person outside of the Council who thinks that this is a good idea. There is grave concern that the City is not shopping locally even though we have competent people right here.

    And, these guys won’t pay taxes in town, they won’t be at Jesse James flipping burgers, or involved in any of the service clubs. They don’t have a vested interest in the town.

    There is no hurry on this matter. Reject all the bids, or at the very least, don’t select one attorney thereby locking Northfield into a situation where you can’t negotiate the price down.

    Remember, you represent us, not the other way around. Have you heard constituents clamoring to change attorneys?

    • Mr Hood serves as City Attorney for those two cities, but he represents many other cities, mostly in greater Minnesota. Your information is simply wrong.

      Fortunately, I have heard from people who do support accepting the recommendations of the search committee. That they have not chosen to do so in the pages of the Northfield News or at the Chamber of Commerce is their choice.

  2. Mr. Hood’s website lists only two cities that the firm represents.

    No one that I know has publicly supported the decision. Of all the people at the Chamber meeting, only you and the Mayor seemed to be in favor. I haven’t seen one public announcement in favor, but I have seen at least one dozen against, most notably the Hospital Administrator.

  3. I agree with the search committee. The current firm had to go outside to other attorneys at a great expense too many times. when you have someone on a retainer, you would expect them to do most of the work. It’s time for a change.

    • David and Bill, Here is a list of Flaherty & Hood’s current and past clients: Northfield, Alexandria, Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District, Becer, Bemidji, Benson, Chisago City, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Coalition of Utility Cities, Cloquet, Crookston, Detroit Lakes, East Grand Forks, Faribault, Fergus Falls, Forst Lake, Glencoe, Glenwood, Grand Marais, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Hinckley, International Falls, Janesville, Kandiyohi County, Koochiching County, La Crescent, Little Falls…ok, I’ve only got to the “L”‘s but I think you can get the picture. The issues on which the firm has represented these cities and other entities include labor relations, land use, legal compliance issues, economic development issues, data practices, joint powers agreements. Again, I am confident – very confident = that Flaherty and Hood know what they are talking about and you, David, do not.

  4. Betsey: I am going off of Flaherty and Hood’s website which says who they have represented as City Attorneys. They might be great lobbyists, but that doesnt’ mean that they are going to give good counsel.

    According to you and the Mayor, Maren has been providing good counsel. I don’t see a good reason to switch to an unknown and less experienced lawyer outside of town when we have an experienced municipal lawyer here.

    What seemed obvious to the Chamber members is that you (and Mary) had your minds made up before you talked to your constituents. There are lots of good reasons not to change, including one that concerns many local businesses – the continuing trend of the City to go outside of town for hired help.

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