News coverage of CORA lawsuit improves

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.

City Memo Refutes Ex-Mayor’s Statement that Kahn was Cleared of Overbilling the City

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.

Press coverage of Tom Bomer’s CORA victory over the City is inadequate.

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