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.