Wykoff’s City Council met Wednesday, March 1, to discuss its options for hiring a new city attorney, as its longtime city attorney, Tom Manion, had submitted his resignation to the council, effective Monday, Feb. 27.

Mayor Al Williams and the council had been debating for the past few months whether to keep Manion’s services or seek the legal assistance of another attorney, based on Williams’ and the council’s divided opinions on Manion’s services to the city and some financial considerations.

During the Feb. 8 regular City Council meeting, Williams gave a quote from another attorney who would be willing to serve the city at a rate of $135 per hour and with additional remuneration necessary, dependent on the work involved. The mayor acknowledged that Manion has served Wykoff for $100 per hour and has historical and operational knowledge of the city’s legal successes and difficulties, but that the attorney has left the council with some questions.

In further discussion, council members also raised questions about his services at that meeting, which were reported in the Spring Valley Tribune. Councilor Rocky Vreeman made a motion at the Feb. 8 meeting to retain Manion as the city’s attorney, but the motion died for lack of a second.

The council tentatively set a meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 28, as a date on which to convene with Manion if he was available, but that meeting did not take place.

The March 1 meeting found the City Council and mayor talking about requests for proposals from area attorneys, or listings of the city’s needs in relation to attorneys’ qualifications and availability to become Wykoff’s next city attorney.

However, city employee and resident Mark Arndt inquired, “Why did Mr. Manion resign, anyway?”

Williams answered, “The comments he read in the paper from the City Council…he felt he had lost the confidence of the City Council, so he will be resigning effective Monday, effective immediately.”

Councilor Mary Tjepkes remarked that she felt that the brief summarization of the Feb. 8 meeting as printed in the Bluff Country Reader Feb. 26 was “misconstrued” and that that was the reason that Manion resigned.

Councilor Brody Mensink countered, “If he resigned over something he read in the paper…take it at face value…whatever.”

The story in the Bluff Country Reader was a condensed version of the one in the Spring Valley Tribune, but included comments that Wykoff officials didn’t think Manion was always acting in the city’s best interests. Manion wasn’t present at the Feb. 8 meeting.

Williams said that he felt that some of the council’s comments on the issue should not have been made public in print, but also that he had inquired of Manion whether it would be legal to discuss his contract, services and the city’s expectations of him in private proceedings. Williams informed the council that Manion had replied that that would not be possible, telling him “you cannot close the meeting to talk to me about me,” adding that sessions closed to the public are only for disciplinary action or employee evaluations under the state’s open meeting law.

When contacted the following day, Manion declined to comment on the matter, citing attorney-client constraints and that ethical rules precluded a response. He cited specific rules from the American Bar Association in which lawyers are cautioned that, when responding to comments posted on the internet or other public forum which are critical of the lawyer’s work, professionalism, or other conduct, any such response should be restrained and should not reveal information about attorney-client matters.

Although Manion said he didn’t resign because he was “seeking quotes,” he did say he was “taken aback” by the comment made by a council member that he wasn’t always “acting in the city’s best interests” since that hadn’t been said directly to him. He said he considered “resignation to be appropriate given the council’s expression of lack of confidence.” He added he had “no reason to think the local papers produce false news.”

The council focused on requests for proposals and how to get them into the hands of area attorneys. Mensink volunteered that he felt it would be most effective to mail them to prospective applicants and that he wanted to know if a new city attorney might consider a 45-day billing cycle instead of a 30-day cycle, as the city has had difficulty with maintaining current billing on a 30-day cycle because of issues that arise and the fact that the council meets only once a month for a regular meeting of councilors and the mayor.

Tjepkes asked, “Does he have to attend every single council meeting?”

The answer she received was that it wasn’t expected.

Schmidt asked, “How do retainers work? That would alleviate the 45-day billing period.”

Councilor Mary Sackett explained, “If we hired on retainer, what we tell the attorney we’re going to pay is what we’re going to pay for X amount of hours a month.”

Mensink contributed, “I think hourly (is good). One of these years, it could be that we don’t need an attorney all the time.”

Williams and Schmidt distributed sample requests gleaned from the League of Minnesota Cities website for the town of Crosby, Minn., a community of similar size and with similar legal needs. The document provided an introduction, the background of the city, general instructions for response, basic services requested, required proposal elements such as a description of the nature of an applicant’s law firm’s practice and the firm’s qualifications for representing the city, an outline of how the attorney would structure his or her relationships with elected and appointed personnel, a list of any client or attorney conflict of interest, compensation expectations and professional references.

“Maybe a basic requirement is more attendance at meetings,” said Sackett after reviewing the document. “He’s going to have to revise ordinances and give legal advice…he’s going to have to be able to give legal advice at open meetings. We need to get away from calling the League for every little thing.”

“When we have little things we want to talk about, we call the League because it’s free, but if we call an attorney, it costs $30 to $50 to ask a question,” Williams responded.

Schmidt asked the councilors to mark changes on the sample to guide her in drafting a request for proposals for Wykoff and to have those changes turned in to her by Friday, March 3. The attorneys being solicited for proposals would then be asked to have their proposals returned to the city by March 22, at which point a special meeting will be held at 7 p.m. to choose which attorney’s services best suit the city’s needs.

The council observed that the city first has to formally accept Manion’s resignation letter during the regular monthly meeting on March 13 at 7 p.m. Mensink wanted to know what the city does in the time between reviewing proposals on March 22 and the present if a legal matter arises.

“We call the League,” said Williams. “They can give us advice, but they can’t represent us.”

Schmidt questioned, “How dangerous is it to run without a city attorney?”

Williams replied, “If it comes to that, then they send down one of their attorneys.”