Does the Mayor know how much he is paying the City Attorney?

In his campaign speeches, the mayor continuously states:  That, “this year, our attorney has only cost us $36,000.”  (YouTube Video of Candidate Forum, 10/18/2017, @ 2:03:27).  But the bills paid log on the City’s website shows the following payments to the City Attorney, “The Conundrum Group” for 2017, January through August:

January                $46,079.89

February              $12,414.01

April                     $27,856.86

May                      $22,174.15

June                      $41,469.93

July                       $40,653.73

YTD Total           $190,648.57*

The bills paid lag the bills sent by about one month.

* The bills paid YTD, as posted on the city’s website, are only through August, 2017.  The Mountain Mail of October 19, 2017, reports that the total paid Kahn’s firm, The Conundrum Group, according to a spreadsheet provided by the City, is $249,971.55, year to date. That is exactly the total of the bills we reported dated 12/25/2016 through 8/10/2017.  It does not include the bill dated 9/5/2017, or any received by the City after that.  It includes no charges for services performed since July.  The Mountain Mail article also states an amount paid by the City to special counsel Lee Phillips, which is $34,785.08. Perhaps that is what the mayor was referring to in his campaign speeches.

Councilmember’s Guest Opinion in TMM reveals political enemies list at City Hall

After being prevented by Mayor LiVecchi from giving her Elected Official’s Report at the October 4, 2017, City Council Meeting (see previous post), Councilwoman Eileen Rogers was afforded the opportunity on October 11th to finish her statement in a Guest Column in The Mountain Mail.  In her guest column, she revealed that, in reading the detailed bills of City Attorney, Ben Kahn, she learned he was directed by the mayor to investigate Salida citizens who express opinions with which the mayor disagreed.

It seems that in one matter called “No. 00272-City of Salida: Elected Official Public Statements” the city attorney’s bills disclosed he was paid $9,767.23 over six months to investigate Councilmembers Rogers and Brown-Kovacic, where he “scoured The Mountain Mail and the internet searching for anything suspicious. Our spoken and written words were closely examined, looking for ‘false public statements and admissions against city interests, public misinformation campaign and fake news promulgation by public officials.’”

Those bills also revealed that “Mayor LiVecchi also directed Mr. Kahn to scrutinize a large number of Salida citizens who have spoken during council meetings, written letters to the editor in The Mountain Mail, published comments on the internet and/or filed requests for copies of official documents using a CORA, the Colorado Open Records Act requests application.”

Mayor authorizes over-payment of $18,906.28 to City Attorney

In the controversy over Mayor Jim LiVecchi’s exclusive control of the City Attorney, the Mayor’s approval of legal bills, merely from a list and without reading the bills themselves, has been called into question. (See posts below.) As expected, this practice not only omits oversight of the City Attorney, but invites costly errors. A review of public records shows that this has indeed been the result.

In August 2017, the City Attorney submitted his bills that included charges through July.  Individual bills (not publicly available) as well as a bill summary dated 8/11/2017, were sent by the City Attorney to the mayor who, according to his practice, files them only on his personal laptop computer, and not on the City’s server for others who might understand them to see. It is not publicly known whether the mayor ever looked at the detailed individual bills, but he did approve and initial individual charges on the bill summary and authorized payment to the City Attorney of $18,906.28.

Then in September 2017 another bill summary dated 9/5/2017 for items totaling $31,238.46 was received by the mayor along with three detailed bills dated 9/1/2017 totaling $12,328.18. The 22 other matters on the summary seemed to lack detailed bills. These undocumented other matters happened to total $18,906.28, the exact amount approved by the mayor for payment to the City Attorney in the previous month. A look at the 9/5/17 bill summary does show that these other items were dated one month earlier than the three documented items. Comparing the two summaries shows that they were in fact duplicates of the charges already approved for payment by the mayor in the previous month. Nonetheless, the mayor approved them again, authorizing payment to the City Attorney of another $31,238.46 when only due $12,328.18 was due, which would be an over-payment of $18,906.28.

And another point: Why has the City Attorney not yet billed for work done since July?

Council Work Session Taken Over by City Attorney

A Salida City Council work session was held on Aug. 14, at which council members had planned to discuss their views on procedures for directing the City Attorney and for reviewing his work and bills.  The session was preempted when the Mayor invited the City Attorney, Ben Kahn, to lead the discussion.  For nearly two hours, as Kahn explained the protocol he envisioned for the City’s supervision of him, all dialog among council members was limited. While Kahn did invite individual council members to confer with him to present their comments, that was to be in private, out of the view of the public.  See YouTube Video and transcript.

During his presentation, Kahn advised Council that, in his view, the Mayor had complete authority to direct the City Attorney and that Council had no power to overrule him.  He said the Mayor had full advance knowledge of, and approved of, everything Kahn did.

The task remains for Council to exercise responsibility in directing and controlling the City Attorney and in overseeing the quality and cost of his work.  His compensation is on track to reach ½ million dollars by October.

Salida City Council to discuss City Attorney Protocol

At a Salida City Council Work Session scheduled for Monday, August 14, Council is expected to discuss two subjects regarding procedures for controlling and overseeing the work of the City Attorney: 1) Who directs the City Attorney and authorizes the work he does? Council, by a vote? The Mayor? The Mayor Pro-Tem? And if the Mayor or Mayor Pro-Tem, is Council entitled to be informed in advance and given an opportunity to weigh in?  And 2) How are the detailed bills of the City Attorney to be reviewed and approved for payment?  Again, by the City Council? By the Mayor? By the Mayor Pro-Tem? Or by Staff, or at least after a preliminary review and report by Staff?

This will be the fourth item on the Agenda of the meeting scheduled to start at 6 pm.  Be informed and let council members know you’re interested in how they address this issue.  Attend the meeting in Council Chambers at East 1st and C Streets in Salida.