McCOOK, Nebraska -- While city staff downplayed the expense of hiring Howard Olsen of Simmons Olsen Law Firm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, as an outside firm to aide in defining a state law that both the State Attorney General's Office and League of Municipalities have been unwilling to offer an official stance on, Councilman Aaron Kircher warned that the city faces additional legal expenses either way it proceeds.
City staff has recommended the firm be hired to provide legal advise in determining whether Councilmen Shane Hilker and Kircher should forfeit their positions, due to Hilker violating a city ordinance and Kircher being convicted of a misdemeanor, both occurring while they were in office.
Kircher offered no other details, nor did anyone present during the meeting inquire about his comment, made during the council's semi-monthly meeting, Thursday evening, at Council Chambers.
Kircher made the comment just prior to the three remaining active councilors unanimously voting to proceed with the hiring of an outside law firm to lend what City Attorney Nate Schneider called an "unbiased opinion" about the matter.
Councilman Mike Gonzales initially raised concerns about hiring the law firm, saying he had reservations and was "wondering what this is going to do for our $1,000, that we haven't already been told and where is this going to lead us? I just kind of wonder and am skeptical about what the information would prevail that we don't already have."
City Attorney Nate Schneider said that discussions with city staff had led him to believe that outside council would be beneficial. Kircher said that Olsen had served as a municipal attorney for "years and years" and would be able to provide "insight that would be fresh and maybe a little bit different from what I have seen at this point in time, not saying that he would find anything different than what I have found."
Schneider said Olsen could help provide independent insight without putting city staff "or myself in a position, of making a determination, in respect to individuals that basically have the authority to hire or fire us." A bias that was apparently not a concern when Schneider served as the prosecuting attorney and convicted Hilker of harboring a potentially vicious dog in May.
Kircher was convicted by Red Willow County Attorney Paul Wood of disturbing the peace in November.
City Manager Jeff Hancock said he had set the $1,000 cap for the expense of the legal opinion, but believed it would likely only cost less than $400.
Councilman Jerry Calvin said he was frustrated no one would stand up and offer an opinion on the statute. Schneider responded that Olsen had indicated he could have the opinion within a few days, with Calvin saying he didn't like spending the extra money but was comfortable with "hanging his hat" on Olsen's opinion.
Schneider added that legislation was proposed by the League of Municipalities for next session to clarify the law and Mayor Dennis Berry said Sen. Mark Christensen's office said they would look at it, but he was uncertain what that meant.
Berry said he couldn't believe the intent of the law was scenarios such as this, just prior to voting in approval to hiring the outside law firm.
During the meeting, County Commissioner Earl McNutt offered the new city manager a recap of the events leading up to the county's need for a jail facility, prior to officially inviting all council members to attend a meeting Monday morning that will provide schematic design information about the potential jail project. The meeting will be hosted by the county's chosen architect for the jail construction project, Prochaska and Associates, which is also the architect behind the city's new municipal facility being constructed on the former West Ward School building lot. The architect's presentation is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, in the County Commissioners room at Red Willow County Courthouse.
McNutt said he hoped to develop a line of communication between the two organizations and to have the council's support in continuing to build our community.
McNutt referenced direction given to City Attorney Nate Schneider, approximately a month prior, to send the Red Willow County Commissioners a letter asking questions about their jail project, saying "it's really what prompted me to be here tonight and I really encourage you to try to help partake in these meetings, so that you can possibly have some input on it also."
McNutt added that at this time the county board had taken no official action on the item, pertaining to whether they will proceed with the building of a new jail next to the courthouse. He said one of the biggest concerns was the impact it would have on the look of downtown McCook and said that visual renditions provided by the architect during the meeting, would hopefully help illustrate what that would look like and how it would impact the area.
Councilman Kircher asked McNutt whether the commissioners would plan to utilize the city jail facility or transport prisoners, during the time period after the city facility was completed, but prior to the jail being constructed. McNutt said the city facility would likely have too many hidden costs to utilize, reiterating that no official decision had been made by commissioners, but saying in his opinion that the county would likely be best served by hiring a couple of extra Sheriff's deputies that could later become jailers and continue to transport prisoners until the jail was completed.
McNutt said he believed that to be the "biggest misconception to the public in general," about the city's voter approved municipal facility, "a lot of people in the community never gave it a single thought that there was no longer going to be any holding cells."
McNutt closed by saying there was a lot yet to be done with the jail project and said the county was still going through the legal process of determining whether they could even purchase the final property needed for the project.
All bids received for the new police package vehicle for the police department were rejected. Councilman Kircher inquired into why the bids were rejected and Chief of Police Isaac Brown explained that all bids received were in excess of the budgeted $23,000 approved for the project. Brown also said that he had learned that some of the area car dealers had missed this opportunity to bid and said he was hopeful that a more competitive bid, and more importantly one that is within budget, could be obtained. Kircher voiced concerns that the city may appear to be favoring one vendor over another, but ultimately seemed content with Brown's explanation that the goal was to get the project within the budgeted amount, adding that those that had submitted bids would be able to bid again.
Bid specifications for the purchase of a new police package vehicle were subsequently approved, with Kircher reiterating his desire to see the police department purchase a front wheel drive vehicle. He has stated during previous council meetings, when police vehicle bid packages have been presented, that he would prefer to see the police department acquire a front wheel drive squad car for traction purposes.
Other items on the consent and regular agenda:
* Frenchman Valley Cooperative, Inc., was approved to receive the city fuel purchase agreement for government vehicles for calendar year 2012.
* A report providing wrap up numbers for the city property surplus auction on Nov. 9 was received and filed by councilors. The city $5,789 from the sale of 16 vehicles, more than 60 bicycles and a few other items. The auction featured one police cruiser that was being retired and several vehicles that had been towed off of city streets.
* An extension for the block grant for the McCook library boiler and chiller replacement project was approved. The extension pushed back the approved completion date of the project to no later than March 2012. City staff had indicated the contractor needed additional time to receive equipment as well as to perform the installation.
Similarly, the contractor for the window portion of the city shop upgrade project was approved for a time extension. That project was extended due to delays on the manufacturing side. That contractor had indicated the delay in manufacturing to be another three to four weeks and installation to take less than one week.
* Bid specifications for a new mini-rescue pumper fire truck were approved. Purchase of the truck has previously been approved in the 2011-12 budget and approval of the bid specs included setting the date to receive bids by, as Jan. 4, 2012.
* Councilman Jerry Calvin was ratified as the Mayor's appointment to represent McCook on the Administrative Board for the Red Willow County Regional Economic Development Plan.