Mayor Debbie Foster questioned Councilman Tom Hawkins’ decision to contact an investigative firm without council approval at Monday’s Fairmont City Council meeting.Hawkins had requested a motion to hire the Twin Cities firm of Madden Galanter Hansen to investigate why the council was never made aware of aging criminal cases handled by former City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist, specifically those that expired due to the statute of limitations, and also to investigate who at City Hall knew about the cases. Erik Ordahl, an attorney with Flaherty and Hood, the city’s interim civil legal counsel, offered his opinion.
“The request to seek this type of work is not the issue. It’s the fact that Councilman Hawkins apparently spoke with a firm and determined they would do this work on behalf of the city without getting council approval,” Ordahl said.
Council members on their own don’t have authority to take action for cities, regardless of what that action is,” Ordahl said. “An individual council member does not have the authority to seek out services.”
He noted that individual council members can take such action only if authorized by the whole body.
Hawkins called for a vote on his original motion. The motion failed with only Hawkins and Cyphers supporting it, but Lubenow suggested a subsequent motion. After some discussion, the council unanimously approved a motion requesting Flaherty and Hood to work with the council and city staff to determine the scope of an investigation and facilitate the recommendation of a qualified firm.
Councilor Bruce Peters,during discussion suggested that council members look at themselves to find out who was responsible for unresolved legal cases, referring to the fact that the council has sole supervisory authority over the City Attorney. Fairmont Police Chief Mike Hunter said he has created a system in which he personally tracks and audits each case and will run a quarterly report on the system with the department captain or administrative sergeant. The process was begun in June, and currently there are 129 active cases in Martin County.
The council discussed another motion from Hawkins to direct the City Attorney to provide legal advice and guidance to a council member or mayor upon their individual request, not as a request from the entire council as is the current practice. The requests would be limited to three times per month, with a maximum of five billable hours per request, but no more than 10 cumulative billable hours per individual.
Peters noted that the potential cost to this city for just this one portion of legal services could be more than $100,000 per year.
The motion passed, with Councilman Wayne Hasek dissenting, after council members implemented changes to require the attorney to share the advice and guidance requested with the rest of the council and that billing should include the name of the individual requesting legal services.
Linsey Preuss, Fairmont economic development coordinator, informed the city council of a grant award on Monday. Fairmont is the recipient a $434,075 grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, funds that will be used to run sewer and water lines to a 37-acre site in the southwest corner of the intersection of Interstate 90 exit 99 and the fairgrounds road, and to a plot of land on the east side of the road.