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Ishpeming City Council makes call on staff attorney

Ishpeming resident PJ Stephens speaks in support of City Attorney Bonnie Hoff during an Ishpeming City Council meeting on Wednesday. The council agreed to form a two-person committee to meet with Hoff. The committee will keep the council informed about ongoing legal projects. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The city of Ishpeming will continue to have an attorney on staff.

After several contentious meetings regarding the position, the Ishpeming City Council agreed by consensus on Wednesday to appoint two councilors who will meet with City Attorney Bonnie Hoff and provide updates to the rest of the council about ongoing legal projects for the city.

Council members appointed to meet with Hoff were Jason Chapman and Pat Scanlon.

Councilwoman Lindsay Bean, who suggested the action, said further discussions of the financial aspects of Hoff’s contract should not be discussed any further following several meetings where councilors questioned whether the city could afford an on-staff attorney. Hoff’s contract entitles her to $50,000 per year “for all services rendered for retainer duties,” contract language states. The city also pays for retirement and a monthly health insurance opt-out, according to its non-union employment policy.

“I posted a little about it on Facebook, as did Jason (Chapman) and I received over the weekend a number of people that commented and had nothing but positive things to say about Bonnie and her work for the city and could not understand why this was suddenly a concern,” Bean said. “The discussions of contract and benefits and pay have been discussed at length in previous meetings over the past year and are more or less settled. Pat (Scanlon) had brought up about potentially just having some parameters around reports or having more information about what specifically Bonnie is working on, and I think that we could address that, but the question of the affordability of an attorney, the potential to renegotiate a contract or terminate a contract, my opinion on that is that is not a respectful or fair discussion to be having.”

During public comment, Ishpeming resident PJ Stephens said she hoped the council would “make the right decision in maintaining a continuity that would stop any chaos” that terminating or changing Hoff’s contract may cause.

Incoming City Manager Craig Cugini should not be expected to “fill holes that have been dug where they didn’t need to be,” Stephens said. “We need to prepare the gentleman who worked at Fort Greely (in Alaska) in a classified position for a smooth transition. The best way to do that is to honor the contract of Bonnie (Hoff); the continuity will continue a smooth transition as a member of the community. We need that now more than ever.”

Scanlon said he never questioned Hoff’s work ethic.

“My comments may have been misconstrued to mean that Bonnie is being paid too much, and that is not the case,” Scanlon said. “My concern is that Bonnie is not structured by council, and it’s this council’s fault, and the last council’s fault and probably a few before that. That’s the problem. I am not saying she is not worth every penny … Her work isn’t in question and the amount of pay isn’t a question to me. But having that structure that we need, so that I can tell Joe Blow when this comes up and it’s a discussion on the street corner that this came up and it’s justified. I can tell them it’s justified and I am pretty sure it’s justified, but I don’t have that information. She’s not full time, she is three days a week, and we can’t really criticize the financial. As a council now, the benefits are the benefits. Either you are entitled or your not. The law says after 32 hours, or whatever, it is you are entitled. You don’t negotiate that. I think we are in a position where we are not giving it to you if you are not entitled to it because we can’t afford it. And if her time got to a point where she was entitled to those things, that is our fault.”

Hoff said she was humbled by the support of the council and during public comment.

“I do try to work very hard for the city of Ishpeming,” she said. “I work in conjunction with a lot of hardworking people. This new group, and what I mean by that is the last five years or so, has really encountered many challenges. And I think, if I can speak for them, that we are working as a team here to move the city forward. I have always had the best interest of the city of Ishpeming at heart. And I pledge to continue to have the best interest of the city of Ishpeming.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.