Two local news sources have recently published stories on the CORA lawsuit on which the City of Salida spent one-fifth of the $600,000 in legal fees it expended in the previous two years. The Ark Valley Voice put out on Sunday a column on the victory and $20,000 settlement that Tom Bomer received from the City in the Miller-Bomer CORA lawsuit that was filed in 2016 when the City refused to produce two documents, an email and a letter. The AVV article reveals the details of the situation faced by Tom Bomer and Jim Miller as their requests were fought by then City Attorney, Ben Kahn.
To a lesser degree, but encouraging, The Mountain Mail, last Friday and again today, questioned the manner in which the $20,000 settlement was reached and approved by the City. In doing so, the City implicitly acknowledged that Tom Bomer won his claim in a decision of the District Court, citing as its source a March 8th letter-to-the-editor that Tom Bomer wrote to that paper. That decision had been posted in full by One Salida on this site on January 16th. This broke TMM’s two-year silence on the use of executive sessions and the lack of transparency by the City authorizing and approving legal fees.
The procedure used by the City was carefully structured, according to the present Interim City Attorney, Geoff Wilson, a municipal law expert with decades of experience. See his memo to the mayor and city administrator. That the settlement was a good deal for the City has not been questioned. The Plaintiffs accepted about 30% of the legal fees they expended. It was costing the City more to fight than to settle. The AVV article discusses the numbers.
On March 7, ex-mayor Jim LiVecchi published a column asserting: “The city recently completed a thorough analysis of every invoice Mr. Kahn submitted. After cross-referencing 95-plus matters and more than 20,000 time entries, the city concluded there was never any double billing or overbilling.”
This column prompted the City Finance Department to issue an Executive Memo to Council effectively stating that no such analysis had been conducted by the City and that such overbilling could not be determined from examination of the invoices alone.
In his tenure as City Attorney, Ben Kahn opened 107 billing matters for the City, and sent the City 478 invoices on those matters totaling $543,700.82 (see chart). These invoices contained, probably, in excess of 4,000 time entries. An example of one of the invoices is invoice #2 for matter 272, where Kahn charged the City $9,767.23 to investigate and discourage public statements of two council members.
In fact, the decision of the District Court handed down on January 2, 2018, in Tom Bomer’s favor received no coverage at all in the local press. This left the public vulnerable to misleading reports. One Salida posted on this website a link to the full text of Tom Bomer’s favorable decision on January 15th. The key language of that District Court decision is as follows:
“Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to the claim the City violated CORA when they failed to properly respond to Mr. Bomer’s request and when they failed to provide the legal grounds for their denial of disclosure.”
“Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED as to the claim the document responsive to the Bomer request was not protected by the attorney-client privilege.“
“[City] Defendants have filed a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment in which they argue the claims asserted by Plaintiffs are moot because the two documents in question have already been disclosed to the Plaintiffs. … Defendants fail to meet their burden. Plaintiffs’ Complaint … seeks fees. … Defendants’ Cross Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.”
By the court, this 2nd day of January, 2018,
/s/ Amanda Hunter, District Court Magistrate
The District Court has ruled that the City of Salida was wrong in refusing to provide to Tom Bomer a copy of emails between the former mayor and former finance director in response to Mr. Bomer’s request under the Colorado Open Records Act. Mr. Bomer will be entitled to recover attorney fees from the city in an amount to be determined. The ruling was made by the court in a written decision on January 2, 2018. In the ruling the court rejected a motion by the City that argued that the requests were frivolous and sought dismissal of the case as moot because the emails were already available to the plaintiffs. The court also ruled that a request my Jim Miller for a copy of an audit letter from the former city attorney could not be decided without trial. Since the audit letter has already been made public, the trial would only go forward if there remain unpaid attorney fees for Mr. Miller to recover.
Newly elected Mayor PT Wood and newly elected Council Members Dan Shore (Ward 1), Justin Critelli (Ward 2) and Harald Kasper (Ward 3) took their oaths of office to replace outgoing Mayor Jim LiVecchi and outgoing Council Members Hal Brown, Eileen Rogers and Melodee Hallett. The newly elected council members will serve with Council Members Rusty Granzella (Ward 1), Cheryl Brown-Kovacic (Ward 2) and Mike Bowers (Ward 3), whose terms extend to 2019.
The new Council elected Council Member Cheryl Brown-Kovacic as the new Mayor Pro-Tem and appointed Council Member Dan Shore as its representative to the Upper Arkansas Conference of Governments. Council also filled the vacancies on the City Planning and Zoning Commission, created by the election of PT Wood and Harald Kasper, by appointing alternate commissioner Francie Bomer and applicant Joe Judd to the commission. Jodi McClurkin, CPA, was welcomed as the City’s newly hired Finance and Administrative Services Director. Prior to the meeting, City Attorney Ben Kahn tendered a 30-day notice of his resignation as Salida city attorney.
NRCDC board president Ron Mazzeo appeared at the meeting and requested a joint work session with City Council to discuss issues continuing from the previous council, including title issues to the Vandaveer Ranch property, a City dry-up request, the Palmer Street right-of-way, an indemnity demand from the city, and reversal of the Divestiture of the NRCDC by the City.
Mayor PT Wood noted three key issues to be immediately considered by the new council: the 2018 Budget, hiring of an interim or temporary city attorney, and the NRCDC matters. The continuing issues of TABOR excess revenue and solar-panel contracts were also noted as requiring attention.