Letter: Who’s in charge?

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Last month the city attorney met with SMMC to discuss the Charmlee Park Bluffs Park swap, without having received direction from the City Council. Does our City Council generally allow the city attorney to pursue issues and accrue city legal fees to herself at her own discretion? Subsequently, the city attorney wrote a staff report for last Monday’s City Council meeting. With presumably no idea whatsoever whether a City Council majority would have any interest in a land swap, she recommended not that the City Council “decide whether to investigate a land swap,” but that they “direct the city attorney to effect a land swap.” 

Since the issue was not about a lawsuit settlement (a closed session topic) but about whether gaining potential sport fields is more desirable than owning wilderness day-hiking acreage and maintaining control to disallow nighttime camping, I find it odd that the city attorney voiced an opinion either way about which objectives the City Council should favor. Analogous to that, as a board member on my HOA board, I’d find it strange if our HOA attorney, without any direction from the board, recommended we resurface the tennis courts instead of buying a new swing set or vice versa. 

If two council members wanted to find out whether Joe Edmiston was amenable to a swap before proposing the idea to the rest of the City Council, it wasn’t necessary to involve an attorney in order to have that level of discussion. It’s only necessary to bring your lawyer into the discussion when you really get down to the nuts and bolts of ironing out an agreement. 

What bothers me is that none of the City Council members expressed disapproval of this. The culture they are allowing that encourages staff, prior to any public deliberation, to allocate public resources (their time) and shape the outcome of issues (perhaps another City Council would have hired a professional negotiator to have discussions with Joe Edmiston, but the city attorney already made that call and appointed herself to the task) is a culture that sees community involvement as largely irrelevant. 

Lynn Norton