Canby City Leaders Appoint Interim Legal Counsel

For the second meeting in a row, the Canby City Council convened last week to consider a single act of business concerning the city attorney position, voting unanimously to appoint the Portland firm Beery Elsner & Hammond LLP, or BEH, to serve as the city’s interim legal counsel.

This one was longer than the previous session on March 28, in which the council convened for just slightly over two minutes to direct Mayor Brian Hodson and City Administrator Scott Archer to secure interim legal counsel in place of City Attorney Joe Lindsay, who has been on protected medical leave of his own volition for more than a month.

BEH, which had previously contracted with the city for urban renewal business as needed, was recommended by Lindsay in a March 9 letter to Hodson and the City Council in which he also outlined accusations of possible public meetings and employment law violations, as well as alleged ethical misconduct.

In the special meeting April 5, Archer told councilors he had also reached out to two other firms, but both declined to offer their services. However, in a letter from BEH partner Chad A. Jacobs, the Beery firm agreed to serve as interim legal counsel and provide legal services for the city through May 31.

According to the terms of the letter, the firm will bill the city on an hourly basis, for a maximum of $49,000. The firm’s hourly scale ranges from $285 per hour for partners to $175 and $150 an hour for paralegals and legal assistants, respectively.

According to his firm bio, Jacobs is a nine-year partner with more than 20 years representing local governments in all aspects of municipal law, including serving as a senior deputy city attorney in San Francisco, California, where he headed the office’s ethics team, and as general counsel for the League of Oregon Cities, where he represented the interests of all of Oregon’s 242 incorporated cities.

In last week’s meeting, Councilor Shawn Varwig asked for the contract to be amended to have the interim legal counsel reporting to the council, pursuant to the city charter, rather than to Archer, who serves as the city’s contracting agent, something with which Councilor Chris Bangs took issue.

“In regard to the charter, the City Council hires the city attorney, but this appears to be an interim, backup attorney,” Bangs said. “We still have a city attorney that we’ve hired. I was comfortable with the way it originally read, because we’re not replacing Joe. … The city charter allows us to hire a city attorney. I don’t believe it allows us to hire two city attorneys. It uses the singular.”

Hodson acknowledged the issue was a bit of a gray area, as did Council President Traci Hensley, who pointed out the firm would be “acting as Joe” in providing legal services and counsel. Bangs ultimately said he would be comfortable with the clause being written either way.

Near the end of the meeting, Councilor Jason Padden shared that he had previously spoken with and sought possible legal counsel from the Beery firm, apparently in reference to the claims made in Lindsay’s March 9 letter and their related issues.

“When this whole thing started to get rolling, I reached out to this law firm, per the letter, and chatted with them about the situation that I found myself in,” Padden said. “They made it very clear that they don’t do that sort of thing, and that they could not advise me on anything, other than to send me to somebody else.

“I don’t feel that that influences my decision-making in any way on this. They did not provide me with information or legal counsel. But I just wanted to make sure that it was plain and clear that I did reach out to them.”

Padden was one of two Canby city councilors, the other being Bangs, who self-reported their own involvement in the possibly unlawful executive session held on February 15 to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, in accordance with state policy.

The Canby City Council was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, April 12, in executive session to consult with legal counsel concerning current litigation or litigation likely to be filed, but the meeting was abruptly canceled shortly before 3:30 p.m. that day. No reason was given.

Hodson said last week that the council plans to resume its normal business and normal meeting schedule beginning with the regular council meeting the following week, on April 19.

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