At the first budget meeting on March 10, finance chair Melody
Anderson drew a line at the end of the day and said that considering
all the information on hand, the city was within $15,000 of breaking
even. However, she also noted throughout the first meeting that
there were still some uncertainties: for example, wage and fringe
increases and increases in the various kinds of insurance.
Saturday she opened the meeting by saying the actual amount that
needed to be cut from the new budget would come to $309,000.
While it was conceded there is a fund balance in the bank that
would make it possible to run the city in the coming year with this
type of shortfall, it was also agreed that if cuts could be made,
they should be.
One such cut came in a place that may have been somewhat
unexpected by the majority of the council: in the office of the city
Mayor Keith Snyder said he had been in conversation with city
attorney Bill Bates, and Bates wants to step aside as the official
attorney for the city.
The city attorney contract is with Woods & Bates, a firm that is
managed by Bill Bates with his son, Blinn. For the last few years,
Blinn has served as the backup, representing the city in Bill Bates'
What the senior Bates would like to do is make Blinn the
principal in the city attorney position and himself the backup.
Snyder also pointed out the amount of money involved in a new
contract had fallen from $81,000 per year to $78,000. The change
didn't have so much to do with the change in official attorney as
with a proposed change in the number of times a city attorney needs
to be present in council meetings.
Snyder said the suggestion was to drop the required attendance to
36 meetings per year, with an average of one meeting per month when
the attorney would not need to be present.
Snyder said he thought this was manageable, as there are meetings
when the city attorney really is not needed. An example of this
would be meetings when there are very few agenda items to vote on,
or nothing that would require further discussion and guidance from
the city attorney.
Regarding Blinn Bates, Snyder said Blinn has been doing a lot of
the behind-the-scenes work for the city for quite some time now. He
has worked with ordinance writing and revision, legal representation
in court, and several other aspects of the internal operations of
the city attorney.
Snyder also noted that Bill Bates was not resigning from
representing the city. He still will be in the background and will
offer his experience and knowledge to his son and to the city as
In addition, Snyder noted that Bates has worked under the same
contract amount for the last three years. He said other discussions
with the attorney had been regarding an increase for this year. The
figure that had been discussed was $86,000 per year for full-time
When the topic went to discussion, Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs said
she felt the attorney presence at workshop meetings was important,
but she could see that during voting sessions the attorney might not
always need to be present.
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Alderman David Wilmert asked if there was a reason Bill Bates
wants to leave, and Snyder said he believed it was a matter of him
wanting more free time.
Wilmert's concern was more about losing the historical knowledge
that the senior Bates has. The comment was also made that with the
"Senator," aka Buzz Busby, absent, Bill Bates was the council's
next-best resource on past proceedings and events.
Anderson did remind the council, though, that the contract is
still with Woods & Bates and would include Bill, just as it now
Wilmert still wondered if Bill would be willing to stay on for a
couple more years if the city would agree that he didn't have to
attend every meeting.
Alderman Tom O'Donohue said he understood Wilmert's concerns, but
it was not like the city was losing Bill Bates. He commented that it
would be a transition to someone new, but at the same time, someone
who does know the city. It would not be like hiring a completely new
attorney, plus Bill Bates will still be there.
Another concern was the unexpected. There are occasions when
people come to the council without forewarning with an issue of
importance. The city council relies on the city attorney to assist
them in responding to such situations within the limits of the law.
Tibbs wondered if in those cases, people weren't really required
to give advance notice that they planned on coming to the council.
Snyder said as it stands now, no, they do not have to give advance
notice, but that could be discussed and changed if needed.
Treasurer Chuck Conzo also weighed in, saying that Blinn is
experienced with the city. Conzo agreed with O'Donohue that the
experience would still be there, not only in Bill Bates, but also in
the fact that Blinn has done a lot of work for the city already.
Conzo also wondered who would decide which three meetings per
month the attorney should attend. Snyder said it had been discussed
that the attorney would not be needed at the second voting meeting
of the month. He said it could be drawn into the contract, but could
also stipulate there might be exceptions if the council determined
an attorney needed to be present for a particular session.
At the end of the discussion, it appeared that the city would
accept the new official assignment of Blinn Bates as their attorney
of record and Woods & Bates as the contracted law firm at $78,000
per year and 36 meetings per year.
[By NILA SMITH]