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Ethics discussed, law firm appointed

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The New Buffalo City Council moved quickly through a trim agenda during their February 21 meeting but complaints regarding ethics and FOIA matters came up at multiple points.

During public comment, residents Susan Gotfried and Donna Messinger both asked the council about ethics complaints stemming from August. In previous Council meetings the Council has stated they have been advised by city attorneys not to discuss the matter while it is being decided in court.

Later in the meeting City Manager David Richards informed the Council of an ethics violation complaint against Mayor Lou O’Donnell.

The complaint stated O’Donnell had “refused to discharge his duty” by having then City Manager Rob Anderson respond to a FOIA appeal. In 2015 the City Council had established the City Clerk as the city’s FOIA administrator and the City Manager as the FOIA appeals administrator. During the February meeting Richards told the Council it would take two members to decide to take the complaint further. Councilmember Liz Ennis noted state law allows a mayor to assign FOIA duties to a city administrator. The Council agreed no action needed to be taken.

Rubia Jasinevicius gave a presentation on the Japanese Knotweed, explaining the invasive species has been found in New Buffalo and is difficult to eradicate.

After reviewing proposals from law firms, the Council appointed Dickenson Wright of Grand Rapids as the city attorney. O’Donnell said the proposal gave the Council an option for hourly rates or a monthly retainer but he said the hourly rate would be better for the city. He said the city has reduced its legal costs in recent months and “ideally” this year’s total costs would be $50,000. Ennis made the motion to use Dickenson Wright for a six-month period, noting she had been “exceedingly” by the firm’s presentation. She added members of the firm have “every kind of expertise,” which would allow them to handle all issues the city could face.

On Richards’ recommendation the Council approved the MMRMA insurance renewal for 2017-2018 in the amount of $116,041.

Richards asked the Council to table the Medic I Ambulance budget, saying more research needed to be done. The Council agreed to wait to vote on the matter.

The Council appointed Richards Street Administrator for the city. The Michigan Department of Transportation requires municipalities to have an Administrator to communicate with MDOT regarding any street work.

The Council used a roll call vote to approve the 2017 Capital Improvement Bond Resolution.

Rental fees for private use of the City Hall Community Room have increased following a recommendation by Richards. The rate for private groups using the hall will now be $100, with a $50 charge for every half hour beyond the agreed ending time. Ennis noted it was a significant increase, but Clerk Lori Vander Clay said groups had stated they were willing to accept the increase. O’Donnell noted city staff needs to be paid to be in the building during weekend rentals. Councilmember Mark Kroll noted groups would not be able to get a private room at a restaurant for the price.

The Special Event Policy application form also is undergoing changes. Richards said the changes would provide the city with protection from potential liabilities.

Kevin Huber has resigned from the Local Officers Compensation Commission in order to serve on the Parks Board. The LOCC does not permit its members to serve on any other City board or commission.

O’Donnell invited the public to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for Phase I of the Downtown Development Project. The ceremony is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 at the corner of Mechanic and Whittaker streets.