Wednesday, November 26, 2014

City council hampered in preparing ordinances without an attorney
Posted on Aug. 6, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 6, 2013 at 7:52 p.m.

An ordinance that pulls together objectives sought earlier by Republican councilman David Henke was prepared by an outside attorney and submitted last week.

Henke’s plan and a proposal by Mayor Dick Moore will be considered by the city council Thursday night, Aug. 8, when the council meets in hopes of making a decision on the drawn-out commercial compact sewer dispute that has lingered for more than eight months.

Businesses, along with some Republicans, have demanded the city change the way it charges businesses outside of the city for sewer. They don’t like the fact the existing formula is based on assessed value and prefer a surcharge based on usage.

In recent months, Moore has responded with a series of compromises, including his latest plan that would reduce monthly charges in half.

Republicans have been working on a counter-proposal, but have been doing so without a staff attorney.

Years ago, according to Henke, the city council used to have money set aside in the city budget that it could use for legal expenses such as drafting legislation.

Henke said trying to draft legislation without an attorney has left council members hamstrung.

Indeed, Republicans have been trying for months to come up with an alternative plan without formal legal advice.

Republican Brian Dickerson used an existing ordinance as a template and rewrote it with numerous amendments that would have established a 15 percent surcharge and directed revenues to the utility department. That proposal was rejected by the council.

Before that, Republicans authored a series of amendments to the existing compact agreement, but an ordinance was never formally drafted.

In the latest attempt, Henke worked with a municipal attorney from another city to draft an ordinance based on his proposed amendments involving a surcharge.

The ordinance was submitted last week and reviewed by city attorney Vlado Vranjes, a standard move for all ordinances brought to the city council for consideration.

Vranjes, in a letter to Moore, said the establishment of a utility surcharge legally requires a rate study and a public hearing be conducted before a related ordinance can be adopted.

Moore warned council members last weekend that the ordinance would not meet legal muster, but the council retained it on the agenda.

Henke said they were aware of the shortcomings, but suggested any ordinance should be based on a rate study.

“We shouldn’t have to go farm ourselves out and find somebody to do it pro bono,” Henke said.

“Rather than the mayor using a city-paid attorney to take our (proposal) apart, he could have asked that same city attorney to draft something appropriate so we don’t have to use an attorney from another city. That’s what we had to do because the doors were blocked,” Henke said.

Henke said they sought help from Vranjes in crafting an ordinance, but Vranjes said he works for the mayor and not the council.

Moore reiterated that point Monday, Aug. 5, saying state law states that municipal attorneys work at the pleasure of the mayor and not council.

Thursday’s special council meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. in council chambers.