Scio Township is getting some extra legal help

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Scio Township is looking to some additional legal support to help it take on a slew of important tasks.

In his report to the township board during the Dec. 28 virtual board meeting, Scio Township Supervisor Will Hathaway summed up why this help is needed at this time:

“The volume of legal work generated by Scio Township has increased. This is having an impact on the ability of the Township Attorney to complete tasks and is thus limiting the Township's service to its residents. The addition of Michael Homier and his colleagues in Foster Swift's municipal practice group will provide Scio Township with necessary support to meet this increased demand for legal services.”

Hathaway said this proposal was not to denigrate the work being done by township attorney Jim Fink. He said Fink is in the middle of a four-year term, is doing good work and has the township support. However, Hathaway said there’s so much happening in the township that some help is needed.

He said this is more about getting help in order to complete some tasks in order to help move the township forward.

Board trustee Jane Vogel said she supported adding some legal help if it means the board could devote more time on substantive township issues and less time on administration and process.

By a 6 to 1 vote, the township board approved retaining Michael Homier and Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC as additional township attorney help.

Township clerk Jessica Flintoft was the no vote and said she had some concerns around such things as budget and whether or not there was a conflict in that another attorney with Foster Swift Collins & Smith was representing the township supervisor and the township in a lawsuit.

She said if there was budget for this and if township board waited a week or so to verify some further information then she would probably support this proposal. The information she wanted clarified included checking with the township insurance company to see if there would be any issue in covering some legal costs due to the township being represented by the same firm in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit Flintoft was referencing is the one brought by township resident Kathleen Brant. The suit pertains to the township board by a 5 to 2 vote earlier this past fall giving the supervisor a salary increase  without utilizing the township's compensation commission.

Brant’s suit/complaint states the township should not have increased the salary because the township board tasked a compensation commission, made up of residents, to set the board’s pay, so with this decision to task, the authority was removed from the township board. 

The complaint states supervisor Hathaway was asked to appoint a compensation commission, but missed a deadline and then called a special meeting where the township board was asked to double his salary from $36,000 to $72,000.

As far as budget, Flintoft said she was concerned about the costs since the township has a $70,000 budget for general attorney work and $65,000 of that has already been used with four months to go in fiscal year.

Flintoft also said she did not think the township was using its current legal resources properly. She said Fink is a star and champ, and dear friend to the township, but she believes the township is asking the legal help to spend too much time on materials that one of the township officials should be drafting.

She said she also wanted clarified how work will be assigned to the new law firm.

Board trustee Kathleen Knol also said she had some concerns about the process, such as the timing of putting the proposal before the board. She said the board hasn’t deliberated or discussed this more and needed to look at such questions as what they want in this proposal, what are its current legal services, and what are they seeking. 

Additionally, she said she thought this proposal should be bid out.

However, Knol said she supports bringing the firm on because of previous township experience with it and the fact that the agreement does have checks and balances in place.

In giving some of his background, Homier said he is the municipal practice group chair and has 22 years in municipal law experience with the firm. He has also worked with Scio Township before with handling a litigation matter on a land division issue.

He said it is important in how the township assigns legal work, but he does think it can be similar in how they assign work to township attorney Fink. He said they are not replacing anything Fink does or will do, but rather they are just offering assistance when asked for and where needed.

It didn’t take long for the township board to look to Homier for advice. He was asked by Knol about the meetings minutes issue that has caused some heated debates on the board and in the community over the past year.

The minutes, which are the record of the meeting, from at least 15 meetings were not approved by the board for months and were on the agenda for the Dec. 28 meeting.

Homier suggested the board approve the minutes for each one with the transcript of each meeting being attached. He said the Open Meetings Act allows the board one opportunity to correct the minutes and that is during the meeting after the meeting in which the minutes were taken, so correcting them was now not in question. He said the minutes can be approved at any time.

So that’s what the board did, attached the transcripts to the minutes and approved them.

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