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Council suspends city code - and decorum

Staff writer

Contention was sharp at Monday’s Marion City Council meeting as a city attorney was appointed despite violation of city code, a resolution was approved directing the planning and zoning commission to alter codes, a changed real estate contract was approved for a Family Dollar store, and city employees received a 20% utility discount and extra days off, all on split votes.

Council members voted 3-2 to hire Brian Bina as city attorney despite a city code requirement that the attorney must attend council meetings. Instead, Bina’s associate, Zachary Strella, who graduated from law school six months ago, will be the one to attend meetings.

Council member Ruth Herbel opposed city administrator Roger Holter’s recommendation to hire Bina.

Herbel said the city should follow its own code.

“He doesn’t say he’ll attend the meetings; he says he’ll be the backup,” Herbel said. “I’m not against him. I’m just saying we need to follow city codes.”

Herbel suggested the city hire Brad Jantz instead.

Mayor David Mayfield said he saw a conflict of interest with Jantz because Jantz is county counsel.

City attorney Susan Robson said that when she was both county attorney and city attorney, there sometimes were conflicts.

“In a conflict, who’s he going to represent?” Mayfield said.

“Could we abide by the code? That’s law,” Herbel said.

Council member Chris Costello, himself an attorney, said lawyers’ schedules sometimes didn’t allow them to attend meetings.

Robson said Hillsboro’s city attorney attended meetings by teleconference.

Robson said she thought if the council’s concerns were discussed with Bina or Jantz, they would work with the city.

“We would be violating the code if we have Bina,” Herbel said.

Holter said the city could set the code aside for now and change it later.

Council members voted 3-2 to hire Bina, with Costello, Susan Gray, and Mayfield in favor and Herbel and councilman Jerry Kline opposed.

Another contentious subject was a resolution to approve use of real estate in Batt Industrial Park for a storage facility for recreational vehicles and boat storage. Storage would be in an unenclosed building. Planning and zoning regulations call for all buildings in the industrial park to be enclosed. Instead, the facility would be like a large carport, with a roof and supports, but no walls.

Zoning administrator Margo Yates told council members she and Robson had reviewed zoning definitions and found that that the industrial park’s allowed uses include purposes that cannot be enclosed, such as water towers and transformers.

A resolution directing the quasi-independent planning and zoning commissioners “to review the regulations and make the requirements consistent with the uses allowed” was opposed by Herbel.

“If we have zoning laws, they should be followed,” Herbel said.

Yates’ irritation was clear when she answered Herbel.

“I know what you’re saying, but I’m saying I don’t think it will stand up in court if they come back,” Yates said.

Robson’s response was also heated.

“I’m just trying to give you a way to do this,” Robson said.

“Don’t we have higher authority than the planning commission?” Costello asked.

Both Yates and Robson said an emphatic “Yes.”

Holding her ground, Herbel said the planning commission should discuss changes first.

Mayfield moved to approve the resolution. It passed on a split vote with Costello, Gray, Mayfield and Kline in favor and Herbel opposed.

An amended real estate contract to sell property in the industrial park to Family Dollar store also was presented. Council members two weeks ago cast a divided vote to sell a lot at 826 N. Roosevelt for $1, but Holter said Monday the company had refused the contract because it lacked a paragraph that assigns a penalty of up to $10,000 plus other costs if the city defaults on the sale.

The paragraph was added back to the contract presented Monday.

The vote to approve the amended sales contract also was split 4-1, with Herbel opposed.

A proposal to give city employees two holidays more than the eight they already have each year likewise passed on a split 4-1 vote. The amended holiday schedule was favored by Mayfield, Costello, Gray, and Kline but opposed by Herbel.

Holter proposed giving city employees a 20% discount on utilities as a way of enticing them to remain with the city. He said anyone working for a private company got some sort of benefit in addition to pay.

Herbel said employees get excellent benefits.

“Benefits don’t pay the bills,” Mayfield contended.

Herbel said city employees were hard-working and did a good job, but she couldn’t support giving them utility discounts.

The vote for 20% utility discounts for employees was 3-2, with Herbel and Kline opposed and Gray, Costello, and Mayfield in favor.

“You’re just kind of picking at everything they say at this point,” audience member Kari Newell told Herbel. “There’s an obvious huge, personal tension between Ruth and David.”

Last modified Nov. 17, 2021

 

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