Some Trustees Caught By Surprise in Village Attorney Switch
Trustee Carol Quinlan says village board had no chance to discuss village manager's appointment of new village attorneys. Process should have been "more transparent."
Trustee Carol Quinlan (Dist. 5) criticized the way she and other Oak Lawn village board members were informed of the change in village attorneys last month, saying she had to ask the village manager what was happening after receiving his “convoluted email.”
Village Manager Larry Deetjen informed the village board on Feb. 29 that he had appointed new legal counsel, saying he had the power to make such appointments under the managerial form of village government. Deetjen was out of the country and did not attend at last Tuesday's village board meeting.
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The village switched attorneys last month, after Paul O’Grady and his government litigation group left Querrey and Harrow to join a new firm with Wisconsin ties. O’Grady and his group will continue to represent the Village of Oak Lawn at Milwaukee, WI-based Peterson Johnson Murray SP's Chicago office.
“[The law] clearly states that the village manager can make this decision but I’m a trustee,” Quinlan said. “I would like to know what’s going on and not get some convoluted email that kind of, sort of tells me that we’re changing law firms.”
Quinlan said that with thousands of dollars at stake, the village should have sought competitive bids from other firms before the village manager appointed the new firm to handle Oak Lawn’s legal business.
“I just think in this day and age it’s just so important that government on all levels is completely open and honest in telling people what’s going,” she said. “When people are scrambling to get work there should be a healthy competition out there.”
Quinlan proposed adding “professional services” in addition to supplies and materials that the village manager is authorized to purchased under the village's municapl code. She also wants to lower the spending cap of $20,000 to $10,000 that would require village board approval before purchases over $10,000 can be made by the village manager.
The village is currently not required under state statutes to seek bids for professional services.
“I just think we, as board members, should have been given a heads up,” Quinlan said. “We should have at least discussed it in executive session and we didn’t do so.”
Trustee Tom Phelan (Dist. 6) said he wasn’t keen on the idea of interviewing “50 law different lawyers trotting out their wares and proposing what they can and cannot do” in a competitive bid process.
“I get tired of this implication that we don’t have the power to stop our village manager from doing thing,” Phelan said. “It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. We’ve heard time and time again as if he’s running out there doing things we can't control. We absolutely can control it.”
The notion of the village manager appointing the village attorneys wasn’t spelled out in state statutes but based on interpretation of past cases, Mayor Dave Heilmann said, himself an attorney.
“Let’s say the village manager went out said he wanted to hire a firm for $1 million a year,” Heilmann continued. “I don’t think the six trustees would sit up here and say, ‘there’s nothing we can do about it.’”
O’Grady apologized to village board members for causing any “consternation” describing the situation at Querrey and Harrow as “fluid.” In the past week, the medical malpractice group also left the firm.
“I tried to inform the village manager of what was happening and that things were developing rapidly at Querrey and Harrow,” O’Grady said. “This happens from time to time.”
All of the Oak Lawn case files from Querrey and Harrow are now in possession of the new form in a transition process that O’Grady described as “seamless.”
The village attorney represents the village in civil rights, labor, workman’s compensation claims, appellate work, and daily ordinances and board work.
The hourly rates--$185—would remain the same as in the Querrey and Harrow contract that got tabled in August. The village was served with a federal subpoena last June seeking documents related to Querrey and Harrow’s hiring in 2008.