The Fairmont City Council secured interim legal counsel for both criminal and civil cases on Monday.
The Martin County Attorney’s Office will handle criminal cases at a rate of $150 per hour during the six-month interim period. Terry Viesselman, Martin County Attorney for the past 25 years, said neither he nor his staff will receive a pay increase for the added work, but that his office can provide the needed legal services more efficiently and therefore cheaper.
Adam Hinz, assistant county attorney, has been reviewing the city’s cases and said about 70 to 80 of those cases require action. He noted that he still has to review about 40 reports and some of cases date back to 2012, beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution. Hinz was hesitant to give a reason for the old cases but suggested that perhaps the charges were not appropriate for the crime or the case stalled waiting for additional information.
To hire an interim attorney to handle the city’s civil cases, the city solicited letters of interest from 18 firms/attorneys in the state. Of the 18 solicitations, the city received 11 responses with only three firms submitting a proposal. No Fairmont firms opted to submit a proposal.
A committee comprised of city administrator Mike Humpal, Mayor Debbie Foster and Hawkins reviewed the three proposals. An Austin firm and a Minneapolis firm each offered a rate of $200 per hour. The firm of Flaherty & Hood of St. Paul, which received the council’s approval, offered a rate of $125 per hour for the first 25 hours, then a rate of $145 per hour, both discounted amounts because Fairmont is a member of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.
A City Code requirement to have the attorney present at council meetings split the votes, 3-2. While council members agreed on the interim attorney choices, they disagreed about Councilor Tom Hawkins’ proposal to end the City Code mandate that the city attorney attend all council meetings. He argued that the council can still require the attorney to be present at meetings “if we choose” and that taking the requirement out of the code would give flexibility to future councils as well. the council voted 3-2 to instruct city staff to prepare an amendment to the code to eliminate the requirement for the city attorney to attend council meetings. A public hearing has been scheduled for the council’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 24.
Hawkins, Lubenow and Cyphers, the same three council members who pushed for eliminating the city’s in-house attorney position last month, supported the code change, with Peters and Hasek voting against.