GWS Council eliminates staff attorney position
Glenwood Springs City Council, following a lengthy closed-door session Wednesday, accepted the resignation of City Attorney Jan Shute and made a significant policy shift when it decided to eliminate the in-house city attorney’s position.
Instead of a full-time staff attorney, the city will now contract for legal counsel, same as the other five municipalities in Garfield County.
For the interim, City Council has appointed Karl Hanlon of the Glenwood law firm Hanlon, Neu and Karp as independent legal counsel for the city.
Hanlon was the former staff attorney for the city in the early 2000s, until 2006 when Shute was hired.
The move to eliminate the position came after Mayor Mike Gamba called the special council meeting to review the contracts of all three council-hired city staff positions, the city manager, city attorney and municipal judge.
“We believe we can see some cost savings for the city by going this route,” Gamba said, referencing studies by other Colorado municipalities that have indicated it’s more cost effective to contract for legal services.
Added Councilman Todd Leahy, “We certain wish Jan the best. She has done a very good job for us, and we hope everything goes forward OK for her.”
The special session was held under an air of uncertainty about the fate of not only Shute’s position, but of City Manager Jeff Hecksel and possibly even Municipal Judge Victor Zerbi.
But after nearly four hours in executive session, action was only taken with regards to the city attorney, with no decision made about the other two city staff positions that are hired directly by City Council.
Shute declined to comment after the 5-1 vote to accept her resignation, with Councilman Stephen Bershenyi opposed. Council then voted 6-0 to eliminate the city attorney position.
Councilman Matt Steckler was the only council member not present for the meeting.
Most council members also declined comment, except for Gamba and Todd Leahy, who indicated that most of the private discussions among council members related to the city attorney’s position.
“By eliminating that in-house position, we’re making the decision that the city would best be served by hiring a firm to handle our legal counsel,” Leahy said, noting that Hanlon has already been handling some special legal services for the city.
“We will go through the process of determining how to issue a contract for those services long term,” he said.
Gamba said the city manager’s contract will likely come up for discussion again at some point, though not immediately.
“At what point, I can’t say,” he said. “Are we talking two years from now? Well, probably before then.”
Shute is entitled to the full terms of severance under her current contract, Council said in making the decision. A copy of that contract was not immediately available for inspection.
She will also be allowed paid leave through May 15, and will continue to receive city health insurance through the end of the year, according to the terms of her resignation.
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