A standoff on whether Dan Vogel can remain as Pacific city attorney over the wishes of the newly elected mayor brought city government to a standstill at the April 23 special board of aldermen meeting.
The meeting was called to swear in officials elected in the April 8 municipal election. (See related swearing-in story.)
Vogel has served as city attorney for the past 12 years, during one term with Mayor Jeff Titter and two terms with Mayor Herb Adams.
Moments after Jeff Palmore was sworn in as mayor and took his seat on the dais, Alderman Walter Arnette made a motion that “our attorney be seated on the dais.” The motion was seconded and approved 6-0 and Vogel took his seat beside Palmore, but the things turned heated as the meeting moved forward.
An item on the agenda called for the appointment of Matt Schroeder, with the firm of Stierberger, Downard, Schroeder & Head, LLC, as both city prosecutor and city attorney for a total legal cost of $110 per hour.
Schroeder has been Pacific’s prosecutor since 1999 and is currently the city attorney for Sullivan. His firm also provides legal counsel for the city of Union.
Alderman Mike Pigg made a motion to table the matter so board members could meet in closed session to discuss the appointment. The motion was voted on and tabled with no action.
Pigg told The Missourian following the meeting that he asked to table the bill because Palmore told him before the meeting that no one but the mayor could talk to the attorney.
“I’m not going to vote on a city attorney that only works for the mayor,” Pigg said.
Pigg also questioned whether one person could serve as city attorney and prosecuting attorney.
City ordinance states that the city attorney shall prosecute cases in the municipal court, but the mayor and board have the option to appoint a separate city counselor.
Following tabling of the attorney appointment bill, Alderman Walter Arnette asked for permission to make a motion, which Palmore granted.
“I move that the city administrator, city clerk, city engineer and president of the board of aldermen be authorized to instruct the city attorney on matters that relate to the city,” Arnette said.
Palmore said he would move to the next agenda item, which was to elect an acting president of the board of aldermen.
“We have a motion on the floor and a second,” Pigg said.
“I didn’t ask for a second and I don’t recognize the motion,” Palmore said, “so we’ll move on.”
When Pigg wanted to ask the attorney to speak to the issue, Palmore said the city does not have an attorney, his term ended with the term of the former mayor.
“There is no attorney to confer with because you guys decided to wait until the next meeting to appoint one,” Palmore said.
Former alderman Brad Reed spoke from the audience, saying officials should look at city ordinance 115.050. Palmore gave Reed permission to read the ordinance.
“The term of appointed offices shall be concurrent with the term of the mayor,” Reed said. “Dan Vogel is not your attorney. His term expired with the mayor’s term.”
Palmore then asked for a nomination for acting president of the board of aldermen. On a motion by Mike Bates, seconded by Arnette, the board unanimously elected Pigg acting president of the board.
Palmore said he would like to adjourn the meeting. Bates objected, saying there were appointments on the agenda that had not been acted on.
Other items on the agenda were the selection of the board liaison to the Pacific Planning and Zoning Commission, appointment of the city clerk, and approval of the mayor’s appointments of prosecuting attorney, city attorney and city administrator.
Palmore said he chose not to act on those appointments at the special meeting and would postpone them until the board acted on the city attorney, prosecutor appointment ordinance.
Vogel said all officers mentioned on the agenda would continue in their current positions until they were reappointed or replaced, citing a court case and the state Constitution that say the terms of officers remain in effect until a replacement is elected and qualified.
“If there are attorneys in the room I think they would agree with me,” Vogel said.
“I’m an attorney and I do not agree with you,” Jonathan Downard said. “The city attorney’s term expires with the mayor’s term. You do not have a city attorney. You have a vacancy.”
Saying he would meet with aldermen and discuss the appointment of an attorney, Palmore asked for a motion to adjourn the meeting. After some back and forth, with the audience shouting for Palmore to name his new attorney, a motion was made, seconded and the meeting adjourned.
The Missourian questioned Palmore and Vogel, who remained at the dais, on how the appointment of officials qualified for a closed meeting.
Vogel said “some of it does and some of it doesn’t.” He then restated his position that he is the city attorney until he is replaced or resigns.
Speaking after the meeting, Downard said the city ordinance is clear.
“The law is written that the city attorney’s term ends with the mayor’s term so the mayor cannot bind future mayors,” Downard said.
“Not only is Vogel no longer the city attorney,” Downard said. “If he gives legal advice to city officials he is acting Ultra Vires, outside the scope of jurisdiction or beyond his power.
“What’s more, he has been the city attorney for 12 years. If he believes the city ordinance is unconstitutional, why hasn’t he notified the city that they need to change the ordinance?”
Downard also said appointment of officials cannot be discussed in a closed meeting.
“Nothing about making appointments qualifies for a closed meeting,” he said. “The mayor makes appointments and the aldermen vote the appointment up or down. If they do not approve the mayor’s appointments, there is a vacancy. If they decide to operate without officials it’s on them.”
Palmore said as mayor he wants another attorney. He said Pacific cannot afford Vogel’s firm, which charges $325 an hour and the city needs a change on how the city uses an attorney.
“The city has been paying 10 times what other cities pay for legal services,” Palmore said.
Following the contentious meeting, Palmore said he would not deal with Vogel or his firm, and he will inform city employees and elected officials to not confer with him on city business and if Vogel sends a bill for acting on city business he (Palmore) would not pay the bill.