The Menahga City Council chipped away at the 2020 budget at an Oct. 22 special meeting.
While approving two months’ worth of bills, an argument ensued about $2,414 in attorney fees.
Mayor Joan Liimatta reminded the council that a previous motion requires them to get approval from the mayor or City Administrator Curt Kreklau before calling the city attorney.
A Sept. 27 invoice from Ramstad, Skoyles & Winters indicated that council member Art Huebner called on Aug. 14.
“If you were doing what you’re supposed to be and I didn’t have to go double-check on your stuff all the time, I wouldn’t be calling in the first place,” Huebner told Liimatta. “How many on this bill are related to you and how many are related to me?”
According to the invoice, City Attorney Tom Winters reviewed complaints against Liimatta on Aug. 6 and again on Aug. 14.
Liimatta said, as far as she knows, no charges will be filed against her. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money,” she said.
“No, it’s not,” Huebner retorted.
Liimatta said calls to the attorney must be related to city business, “otherwise, it’s personal.”
Huebner replied, “You took away our right to call the attorney because we’re getting too close to stopping you and the things you’re doing. That’s a fact. How many times has the attorney called you and said start acting like a council of five instead of a council of one.”
Liimatta said Winters has never contacted her.
Huebner claimed Winters called her four or five times.
Liimatta said it’s not “unusual” to limit calls to the attorney. “That is the way city business is done to keep attorney fees down to a manageable amount.”
“Are you over-budget with the attorney?” Huebner asked.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re way over $650 a month.”
Huebner said he called once because he wasn’t getting answers anywhere else.
“If you do it again, you’re going to pay for it personally,” Liimatta said, adding that the city will pay the bill this time, but in the future she or Kreklau must be able to “monitor exactly how pertinent it is to our city running smoothly.”
Huebner pointed out that Liimatta should take a vote on how this bill gets paid, not decide on her own.
Council member Karol Andreasen asked Huebner if his question was answered satisfactorily, and he replied that it was.
Council member Tim Ellingson asked Huebner to explain the issue. Huebner told him to call the city attorney to get the details.
Ellingson said he wanted to hear from Huebner, who then admitted he questions how Liimatta handles council meetings.
“I’m contending about some of the things that are said, like how many times does she say ‘I want,’” Huebner said.
Ellingson replied, “She can voice her opinions and ideas, as you can; therefore, you should not be wasting taxpayer money calling a lawyer to ‘set her straight’ when we all have equal opportunity to present our ideas. No matter how far fetched they are, we have an equal right.”
The council unanimously passed a motion for the city to pay for Huebner’s call, with the stipulation that future calls must either be approved by Liimatta or Kreklau or the council member must consult with their own attorney at their own cost.
“These guys are $250 bucks an hour,” Liimatta said, reiterating that calling the lawyer must be warranted.
Kreklau reminded the council that, by resolution, he is authorized to “pay all claims that the city official deems just, correct and valid.”
Kreklau said that, two weeks ago, the city “got into trouble” because of a hold on an invoice for the liquor store. The council still has the right to dispute a bill, even after the check has been issued. He also stated he would bring “big ticket items” to the council for approval.
Finally, Andreasen suggested that city employees be given the opportunity to review the council.
Kreklau said he’s “a firm believer in 360.” He recommended using a Survey Monkey questionnaire after the council adopts the questions to be asked. Kreklau would then provide the summary data to the council.
The council reviewed general fund expenditures for 2020. They continued the meeting on Oct. 29 to examine other city funds.