During Monday night’s Newport City Council meeting councilor David Allen caught something that didn’t make him happy. Or anyone else on the council either. Allen confronted City Manager Jim Voetberg over an invoice given to the city for handling a reversal of a recent council’s decision to award a police car maintenance contract to a local repair garage. Voetberg quickly deferred to City Finance Director David Marshall who said the award was protested by another repair garage. The claim was that the recommendation before the council had been the product of bias, not an objective assessment of which repair garage would benefit the city most. Marshall said the city administration, on its own, withdrew the contract offer after consulting with the city attorney’s office in Eugene. Marshall went on to say that the city attorney indicated the withdrawal was appropriate.
However, that decision rattled Allen’s sensibilities about the job of staff vs. the job of the council. He was visibly miffed that staff took it upon themselves to reverse an action of the city council, and on top of that, doing it without notifying the council that they had done it.
Marshall apologized but again assured the council that the move had the city attorney’s blessing. That riled Allen again asking “Why didn’t we get a notice from the city attorney that this had happened? Why did I have to stumble on it while reading an invoice from the city attorney to the city? An e-mail is all it would have taken.” Allen went onto say that communications between the city attorney and the council is very important. The council agreed.
The council decided last spring to hire a Eugene law firm that specializes in government law. In a move to keep legal fees to a minimum, the council acquiesced on a procedure that only Mayor Mark McConnell and City Manager Jim Voetberg would have unfettered access to the firm, while the six city councilors would need prior approval. There has been talk among the councilors that they reserve the right to call anyway if they feel strongly about an issue that they want clarified. However, they have said that such occurrences would be infrequent if not rare. Councilor Allen, himself an attorney, has been the most outspoken about the right of councilor access to the city attorney.