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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : editorials September 30, 2016

2/7/2012 1:09:00 PM
Editorial: Cottonwood needs written policy on city attorney access

The Dan Lueder-Doug Palmquist conflict points to at least one area of city policy for which the Cottonwood City Council needs to establish written rules.

Currently, according to City Manager Doug Bartosh, city commission members are advised to work through their staff representative for any request related to city departments or resources.

Something obviously was lost in translation here as it applies to the conflict between Lueder and Palmquist. According to the “advice” given commission and other advisory board members, Palmquist should have taken his concerns about a contract proposal to Lueder. Instead, he took it directly to the city attorney. Lueder viewed Palmquist’s actions as going behind his back and an aberration of city procedure.

“I am not sure we have written rules,” admits Bartosh.

For the record, the Cottonwood city attorney is appointed by, and serves at the pleasure of, the City Council. Ultimately, he is the attorney of record only for the city council. To his credit, City Attorney Steve Horton is an approachable and helpful professional. In our line of work, he is a breath of fresh air to the typical response we receive from city attorneys that our requests for information need to be routed through the mayor and the mayor in turn will instruct him on whether or not he will provide the information we are requesting.

In other words, the city attorney is not the attorney of record for anyone and everyone who has some connection with city hall or is doing business with the city. That includes city advisory board and commission members. It even applies to news reporters chasing down a story.

“Initially, when we were paying by the hour to a contract law firm, such requests would go through the City Manager or City Clerk,” explained Bartosh. “Now that Steve is full-time, usually the only employees who contact him for guidance or to request work are the city manager, city clerk, general managers and department managers. Any employee under those positions would rarely contact the city attorney and only with management approval. Since I have been at Cottonwood, this is the first time we have had this issue with a commission or board member. Not surprising, it was an Airport Commission member. We have had lower level employees make contact without approval and that action was corrected.”

The accusations, claims and name-calling that resulted from the conflict between Lueder and Palmquist didn’t benefit anyone at City Hall. It all could have been easily avoided if the city had clearly established, and written, rules that spell out the city attorney is off-limits to city advisory board and commission members.

“Advice” obviously does not cut it.

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