By Stan Oklobdzija
Effective March 18, the city of Jackson will be on the lookout for new attorney services.
Following a 30 day notice given by current City Attorney Dennis Crabb and his firm, Rollston, Henderson, Rasumussen and Crabb, legal services provided by the firm will be continued “on an interim and hourly rate basis until a replacement city attorney is hired by the city council,” according to a memorandum prepared by City Manager Mike Daly. Though the firm will no longer be representing the city, a pending litigation matter will be concluded by the firm in accordance with standard professional practice.
The firm started with the city of Jackson in 1995. Citing the retirement of two managing partners, Crabb stated that the increased workload made it difficult for the firm to continue providing services.
“As a managing partner, I´m pretty busy rearranging the firm,” he said. “I couldn´t get down to Jackson on a regular basis.
“One of our associates came in and he said he wasn´t interested in continuing,” said Crabb, referring to current city attorney Richard Holt.
“There had been some difficulties we had worked through with a number of projects,” he said. “Basically, it was time to move on.”
City Manager Mike Daly cited internal disputes as a factor in the firm´s resignation.
“He´s (Crabb) also had a lot of conflict with one of our council members which makes it difficult for him to operate. Lots of the issues get distracted because of this,” said Daly.
A request for proposals was brought before the city council at the Feb. 28 meeting by Daly seeking applicants to fill the vacancy. Interested law firms and individuals should have a minimum of five years´ experience in municipal law. Written proposals are due by 4 p.m. March 25.
“The proposal is based on the assumption that city attorney services would be utilized on a contract basis. This is the typical method for cities of our size,” said Daly.
According to Daly, the city does not expect to have a new city attorney at the ready for quite some time.
“It probably won´t be until May that we´ll be able to have someone on board,” said Daly, citing the necessity to finalize contract issues for the delay. Meanwhile, “we will be having discussions with Crabb´s firm to provide interim services,” he said.
Council members expressed their regret for Crabb´s departure.
“I´m disappointed that they´re leaving,” said councilman Drew Stidger during last week´s meeting. “It´s unfortunate that they have to leave in this situation.”
Councilman Al Nunes was less reserved with his opinions.
“With a city council member that takes on our attorney in an open meeting, I think there are some changes that need to be made,” he said during last week´s meeting. “Can we discuss what´s happening so that we can keep the next attorney service we get?”
Stidger echoed this sentiment.
“I think it´s time that we bring some professionalism back to the council,” he said.
Prior to last year´s city council election, Crabb tendered his resignation as city attorney. In a recent interview, he stated that this has been his standard practice for the 30 years he´s been a city attorney.
“I don´t believe that a new council should be required to use the services of a current city attorney,” he said in September.
In addition, he acknowledged certain issues brought up by council member Marilyn Lewis and her husband Bud. In a memorandum presented to city council in late September, Crabb stated that “having lost in court repeatedly and summarily, the Lewis´ seek to make my service as city attorney an issue in the current council election.
“Throughout the years I´ve done my utmost to treat all council members, council candidates and their supporters with courtesy, respect for their point of view and to look for win-win solutions to issues of concern. That is no longer possible in the city of Jackson,” he stated.
In the Sept. 24 issue of the Ledger Dispatch, council candidate Bud Lewis addressed Crabb´s service as city attorney. “Dennis takes the majority opinion then advocates policy decisions to the council for what he sees as their goal, rather than providing sound, unbiased legal advice. With Dennis Crabb as city attorney, who then advises city council, the council doesn´t really have a role in the decision making process. Dennis makes decisions for them.”
Much of the conflict stems from lawsuits with the city in regards to development.
According to councilwoman Marilyn Lewis, “it´s about time” Crabb and his firm resigned.
“We need a local attorney that will know local issues and not one that will B.S. the council,” she said. “A city attorney should give legal advice for both aspects of an issue, Crabb gave advice for what he wanted to hear. We´re in big trouble for what he´s done and that´s why I think he´s leaving.
“He´s a corrupt attorney,” she said. “Look at his billing, follow the money. He runs the store and that´s not right.
The reason he´s resigning is because the stuff is hitting the fan and the council doesn´t know it yet.”
Lewis, who is currently out of state tending to her husband while he undergoes heart surgery, intends to prove all her allegations upon her return.
“I don´t say anything without positive proof,” she said.
Despite the turmoil, Crabb had a pleasant recollection of his time in Jackson.
“I was proud of the city of Jackson and proud of the things we accomplished,” said Crabb.
“When I came in 1995, the city was in a pretty difficult situation,” he said. “Now the city is financially stable and has no serious pending litigation against it. That´s the best thing you can say about being a city attorney – that the city is better than when you found it.”
Mayor RosaLee Pryor Escamilla noted that a special agenda item on meeting conduct rules will be held during the March 14 meeting in order to address concerns of future council member behavior.
The council agreed to conduct a review of potential city attorneys during a closed session after the March 28 meeting.
Reprinted with kind permission from Amador Ledger Dispatch