HUBER HEIGHTS — A discussion about future legal representation for Huber Heights turned into a debate worthy of any courtroom drama on Monday night.
The final item on city council’s agenda Monday was a resolution authorizing the issuing of a request for proposal (RFP) for legal services. Current Law Director Alan Schaeffer has turned in his resignation effective at the end of December.
But the proposal hit a snag when Council Member Nancy Byrge pointed out there was a section of the RFP that should not have been included in the document. Byrge said the proposal was not ready and council needed to take up the issue again at the next council work session.
The problem is that council is facing a deadline with Schaeffer’s resignation.
In response to a question from Council Member Mark Campbell, Schaeffer said that his law firm, Pickrell, Schaeffer and Ebeling, would be willing to serve on a month-to-month basis while council selects a new legal representative. Campbell suggested an amendment to the resolution for providing for a month-to-month agreement with the law firm if necessary.
But Mayor Tom McMasters didn’t want any part of that idea and threatened to veto hiring Pickrell, Schaeffer and Ebeling on a temporary basis. Instead, he said the city could hire another firm on a professional services contract for a limited time.
Campbell then asked, “Is there something I’m missing with this firm? Is there an underlying problem that the city or the city’s residents have with this firm?”
McMasters responded that “I think there have been a number of occasions where the advice, the papers that Mr. Schaeffer has prepared have not reflected an impartial reading of the law, they were mostly presented for one case or another case, so he is advocating for a course of action instead of advising law. Yes, and then to not address those concerns when they’re brought up is concerning.”
Council Member Richard Shaw asked that council take the issue back to a work session and possibly hold a special meeting to move the issue along.
Campbell asked once again what would stop the city from using Pickrell, Schaeffer and Ebeling on a temporary basis since Schaeffer was removing himself from the picture. He was answered by Council Member Glenn Otto.
“To Mr. Campbell’s question,” Otto said, “can you separate the Schaeffer from Pickrell, Schaeffer and Ebeling?”
“I certainly can,” Campbell said. “Understand, we’re talking about a 30 to 60 day window and we have more than Alan to assist us. I know there are reasons you go with firms and this seems like, in my humble opinion, is the perfect scenario why we would go with a firm if there could be some bridge that could gap between now and us finalizing the RFP and the selection process.”
Otto said the discussion started in April or May and was willing to return the issue to a work session but said he supported a special session if it is needed to “get this moving forward in an expedient manner as possible.
“It’s obvious that there is tension on this subject,” Otto said. “We need to move past this tension. We’ve done it on other subjects, we need to do it here.”
Council Member Tyler Starline urged council members work on getting the RFP out “sooner rather than later.” He then referred to McMasters’ potential veto by saying if the RFP could be completed soon, “I might be that sixth vote to stop the mayor from dragging us somewhere else,” referring to McMasters’ veto promise. It takes six votes to override a veto and Starline is one of the council members who has expressed opposition to Schaeffer’s law firm.
Council members then discussed the possibility of a special meeting to get the RFP ready or discussing the issue at next Tuesday’s work session with a special meeting to handle other items that would normally be on the work session agenda. Tuesday’s work session also will include a presentation on a parks and recreation master plan.
Council finally passed a resolution 6-1 to postpone action on the resolution so a revised version can be re-introduced at a future meeting. Otto voted against the motion and Council Member Ed Lyons had to leave the meeting before the vote was taken.
So council members will take up the issue again at the Tuesday work session. When the city will advertise for a new law firm, who will take over on a temporary basis at the end of the year and how long it will take to pick the city’s next legal representative … well, it appears the jury is still out.