CROSSLAKE -- The Crosslake City Council split 3-2 in a vote Thursday that effectively limits the ability of individual council members to contact the city attorney.
Crosslake council member Dean Eggena led the effort to limit access to the city attorney. The council majority voted the city administrator, phone company general manager and police chief were the only three parties who could directly contact the city attorney for city business.
Voting against the motion were Mayor Jay Andolshek and council member Dean Swanson.
Andolshek said it only affected council members on the short end of a 3-2 vote. He said if attorney's fees were an issue the council should handle that within the budget process. He said the move ties the hands of council members. Eggena said majority rules in a democracy.
Andolshek asked if his opinion was so out of line that he couldn't contact a city attorney. Council members may ask questions of the attorney during meetings. Council member Terry Curtis said without control, someone could abuse the option. But he said there is no indication that is happening now. Council member Dick Phillips said the cards could be stacked against the council if one member could go out on their own.
"You are hamstringing the minority," said Sandy Eliason, Crosslake, former council member. She said that is not what democracy is about. Since January Eliason said the votes are predictably 3-2. She questioned whether Curtis would vote to allow Swanson, who is often a minority vote, to talk to the attorney.
Curtis said there are times when the two agree. Phillips agreed with Swanson that attorney's costs were not driven by council members. But Phillips asked why not prevent it from happening.
Swanson noted two motions were passed in 2 1/2 hours of discussion during the special meeting. "There are a lot of dollars going out right here this morning and what have we accomplished?"
The conversation started as Eggena was critical of the way staff members called the city attorney instead of bringing matters back before the city council. He said the council should have more oversight on who can talk to the attorney. Eggena said the council can interpret ordinances and do it cheaper. He first suggested the city administrator should be the only one who contacted the city attorney. He later amended that motion to include others.
In 2004, Eggena said the city budgeted $28,500 for legal fees and paid $74,225 to the city attorney. Without an ability to address access to the attorney, the council doesn't have any control on the budget, Eggena said.
Eggena said the numbers may not be as lopsided as they suggest, as other areas such as road projects could be involved in the costs.
Ken Anderson, community development director, said planning and zoning takes in revenue for the attorney's efforts through fees. Those revenues are not reflected in the disparity Eggena listed, Anderson said.
Curtis said other cities do not have the city attorney sitting at the council table. Crosslake does. The city administrator and city attorney sit at the council table.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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