Discussion between Baird and Stassen reverts back to the City’s sale of house to Roman Adams

    It’s been many years since the Crookston City Council has had to deal with turnover when it comes to who they contract with to provide city attorney services. But with Chuck Fitzgerald completing his transition into full retirement and the council looking to appoint on an interim basis Stephen Larson as city attorney until requests for proposals can be completed and disseminated by the City in a few months, At Large Bobby Baird voiced his concerns at the council’s first meeting of 2019 Monday evening.

    Larson, like Fitzgerald, of the Reynolds, Harbott, Knutson & Larson PLLP law firm, over the past couple of years has increased his profile in providing city attorney services, as Fitzgerald began his transition into retirement. Monday, Baird said he didn’t like the way Larson handled the saga regarding the City’s sale of a flood control project house and lot to Roman Adams on Bridge Street that dated back to early 2017 and was just recently resolved by an attorney representing Roman Adams and his parents, Dean and Sheryl Adams, Larson, and the council.

    Baird said taxpayer dollars were spent unnecessarily as the dispute dragged on, and he felt it was wrong to simply appoint Larson as city attorney, whether or not it was on an interim basis. (The resolution to do so was on Monday’s consent agenda, but Baird asked that it be moved to the regular agenda so it could be discussed further.)

    City Finance Director Angel Weasner, asked by Baird how the City goes about securing city attorney services and whether or not there was a bidding process, responded that, with Fitzgerald’s longevity in the position, the city attorney firm was appointed annually. But with Fitzgerald’s retirement, the City will put a request for proposals (RFP) together and needs an interim city attorney in the meantime. Weasner figures the RFP will be ready for a council vote in March.

    Baird said he felt the council wasn’t kept sufficiently informed as the property sale dispute with the Adams family continued. City Administrator Shannon Stassen cited the confidential nature of the discussions between attorneys representing the two parties, and also said the legal fees charged to the City by the city attorney’s office specific to the dispute with the Adams family were “minuscule.”

    It was apparent during Monday’s discussion that Stassen was choosing his words carefully. It was also apparent that he wished council members with concerns about various things would come and speak to him about them before airing them at a full council meeting. “It would be very nice if council members would come in and…” he said, trailing off. “I don’t want to say anything that gives the council a black eye.”

    Stassen stressed that the City had been extremely accommodating to the Adams family. “There’s a lot more going on here than what’s being said,” Stassen said. “To say something illegal happened, it’s just not the case. Had we gone to litigation we would have had a very strong case.”

    Stassen said the message he received from the council early on was to “get this to the lawyers and get this done.” He said the City gave the Adams “absolutely everything they wanted and it wasn’t enough. That’s the truth.”

    Baird voted against the resolution appointing Larson on an interim basis. Ward 3 Council Member Clayton Briggs did, too. Confirming Briggs’ vote with Weasner on Tuesday, she told the Times that Briggs approached her after the meeting seeking to change his vote, saying his “nay” vote was made in error. But she said council member votes cannot be changed after the fact.

Greater presence?

    At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten, noting that he’s been on the council a long time, said he longed for the days where Fitzgerald was in attendance at just about every council or Ways & Means Committee meeting. “He kept us out of some trouble and made sure we had things right,” Vedbraaten said, in wondering why Larson isn’t as consistent of a meeting attendee. “We pay them a lot of money; it would be nice to deal with things before rather than after,” he said.

    Stassen said he anticipates the City’s legal representation in the future to be represented at more meetings.