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Council signs pacts for legal services and city consultant

Sat., Nov. 19, 2011, midnight

The Liberty Lake City Council hit a snag Tuesday when, during part of its meeting, it no longer had a quorum.

To conduct business or vote, there must be at least four council members present. Council members Ryan Romney and Susan Schuler were absent, and Josh Beckett was out of town, although he was able to teleconference into the meeting later.

Councilman David Crump apologized to the council and audience, because his daughter, who attends Central Valley High School, had a solo in Tuesday night’s band concert. Crump suggested he leave, listen to his daughter’s solo and come back, a trip that took him about 50 minutes, but left the council without a quorum.

While he was gone, the remaining council – Cris Kaminskas, Odin Langford and Judi Owens – listened to council reports from the various committees, and Mayor Wendy Van Orman’s report of upcoming meetings and events.

They held a public hearing regarding the first reading of the ordinance to approve the budget for 2012, which City Attorney Sean Boutz said could be conducted without a quorum.

Mayor-elect Steve Peterson addressed the council to say the city needs to address its infrastructure as a priority before it discussed paying off any bonds. He said he wasn’t against paying off the city’s debt, but felt the city should look at other needs before it did. He said the decision last year to purchase a police vehicle outright instead of leasing more than one was a mistake, since this year’s models are $5,000 to $6,000 more than last year.

“Let’s think different this year,” he said.

Van Orman suggested to residents that if they haven’t taken a look at the proposed budget, it is available on the city’s website.

Upon Crump’s return, the council discussed two items on the consent agenda – a contract with the law firm of Evans, Craven and Lackie, which has been providing the city’s legal services with Boutz as its attorney, and an agreement to retain an interim municipal consultant.

Langford said he was thrilled with the work the committee did in looking at candidates for the municipal consultant.

“It’s rare we have the ability to gather a well-rounded committee to make suggestions,” he said. He thought the top three candidates the committee chose were the right ones for Liberty Lake.

But Langford was concerned that one had already been chosen as the interim consultant, rather than the council sitting down to make its choice.

“When was the decision made to bring this person in?” Langford asked. He said that he was on the committee and he hadn’t heard that one of its top three candidates had been selected.

Van Orman said it was a process of elimination. She said of the three candidates, two of them couldn’t begin work until after the beginning of the year and her choice, Michael Cecka, has experience in working with Washington state law.

When the vote came down, Owens, Crump, Beckett and Kaminskas all agreed to sign the contract. Langford opposed it.

As for retaining the city’s legal services, the contract would be for four years at a rate of $190 an hour. The contract states that either party, the city or the law firm, can terminate the contract for material breach of any provision with 45 days advance notice. It’s the first contract the city has had with Boutz, who has been its representation for five years.

“Why all of a sudden?” asked Langford.

Van Orman said the contract would make it easier to budget for the legal fees the next four years and it would ensure the attorney’s salary.

Boutz said he and the mayor had been negotiating the contract since this summer.

Owens said she was satisfied with the contract and the 45-day provision to terminate the contract.

“I believe we have the basis for a good contract,” she said.

Peterson stood and asked if he could speak. Van Orman said, “No, not really,” but Peterson approached the podium.

He said he felt the contract was in violation of the municipal code since the mayor chooses its legal counsel and he would be taking office in a few weeks.

Boutz disagreed. He said the contract doesn’t violate any laws and it provides an appointment of an attorney by the mayor and a vote from the council.

The council voted unanimously to approve the contract.

There were a few items on the agenda that were tabled until the next meeting, including an ordinance which would pay off a bond for 6.4 acres of land, and an ordinance which would amend the utility tax rate to 3 percent, rather than the 6 percent residents are currently paying.

They did have to approve a resolution to set the 2012 property tax levy, since finance director RJ Stephenson said he needs to certify the amount by Nov. 30 by law.

The city will collect a total of almost $1.9 million, the same amount as in 2011.

The council voted unanimously to approve the levy amount.

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