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Position called into question

Ishpeming City Council to consider necessity of full-time attorney

HOFF

ISHPEMING — Ishpeming City Council members have all but reconciled themselves with the idea of a projected $191,000 budget shortfall by the end of 2019, but some are still looking for places to cut, and one of those places could center around the city attorney.

During a budget work session on Monday, councilors debated the necessity of reviewing its contract with Bonnie Hoff, whose salary is $50,000 per year according to Ishpeming’s proposed city budget.

Councilor Pat Scanlon wondered whether the city could afford a full-time attorney, but said he was not questioning Hoff’s integrity or work ethic.

“We didn’t do our job,” Scanlon said. “There’s no direction, that’s the problem — affording it. You can’t tell someone to do everything under the sun that involves a lawyer and then say ‘You’re doing too much, it costs too much money.’ My head tells me we can’t afford a full time. But how much work can go… how much doesn’t need to be done. We need to have somebody off of council who touches base with the attorney and then comes back to council, just for the communication piece of it. And that never happened. Nobody on the council can tell me what the attorney is doing.”

Hoff said she could stop working so many hours including working from home or when on the road on personal matters when “historical projects” stopped coming up.

SCANLON

“I am a professional, I will never let things slip.

As I have repeated numerous times, I am tired of saying it, I am from Ishpeming I donate more time for Ishpeming than I have for any other client in my career,” Hoff said. “I am happy to do that, but I cannot expect any other attorney to be paid the low level of compensation that this job would give him or her. So therefore, I handle things. 24 hours per day, seven days per week.”

Councilor Lindsay Bean expressed confusion about why the subject was being brought up considering that each councilor had, by concensus agreed, that the city’s general fund balance had been on an upward trend over the last decade.

“I guess I am curious why we have been talking about the budget for the better part of the last hour and decided, for the most part, I think that everyone is reasonably comfortable with where the budget is at,” Bean said. “But then we go in and say now we are going to discuss whether we can afford a full or part-time attorney seems contradictory with the discussion that the majority of the council has been having. I don’t think Bonnie does legal work for the city because it’s a lot of fun to look at legal work for the city. I think that she does work that needs to be done. And I don’t know what we are going to decide any more or less important than the work that needs to be done.”

Councilor Jason Chapman, who was just appointed to the council in October, agreed.

“I am sitting here with the last three months of what she has done. I have taken some time to do some research and she is averaging 33 hours per week,” Chapman said. “I don’t know why we are at this point either.”

Scanlon said that is why he’s a proponent of a special meeting.

“It’s so important to sit down and discuss this and to get everything on the up and up,” Scanlon said.

Mayor Mike Tonkin, who has been a vocal proponent of hiring the services of a law firm rather than an individual city attorney beginning when Hoff was hired in 2014, said he would set a special meeting.

“I think everyone knows my opinion on this. So I won’t expound on it,” Tonkin said. “I want a meeting called in early December and we are going to make a decision. How’s that? We will come up with something after our discussion about our attorney’s position in the corporation. No other city or township in the county has a full-time attorney.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.