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City needs to clean up its act

To say things are a mess at City Hall might be an understatement. And things are likely to get a lot messier as the city is embroiled in several lawsuits, including the most recent one with the city attorney and city manager.

Their lawsuit claims a discussion about potentially ending their employment contracts with the city is in retaliation for them substantiating a series of accusations against Mayor Kiernan McManus.

They said there is an ongoing investigation after various city employees alleged the mayor engaged in “religious discrimination, harassment, bullying and creating a hostile work environment.”

Even if those allegations are eventually proven to be unwarranted, the fact that they were made cannot make going to work easy for staff members.

Hurt feelings aside, all of these lawsuits come with a hefty price tag that will definitely put a big dent into the city’s financial health, which is already feeling the pinch from COVID-19.

In May, City Council members approved a revised budget for the 2021 fiscal year that was $2.3 million less than the one originally presented that included an estimated 40 percent or $9.1 million loss in consolidated tax revenue.

To balance the budget, the city took about $6.5 million from the 2019-2020 fiscal year’s general fund that would have been put into reserves and moved it to the operating fund.

Council members also agreed to cut 10 percent from each department’s budget, reduced special project funds by $2 million, cut salary and benefits by about $1.3 million by implementing a hiring freeze and cut contracts by $367,002.

Their concern about city finances surfaced again July 14 when they voted against replacing a 20-year-old ambulance that is nearing the end of its serviceability and is outside the national recommendation for replacement. The ambulance would cost $232,258, and $265,000 had already been allocated for its purchase in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

At the time, Councilwoman Judy Hoskins said she could not support purchasing the new ambulance because of budget issues caused by the pandemic.

McManus also cited the pandemic, saying they did not know the full effect it would have on the city’s budget and he was trying to avoid having to lay off staff in the future.

So the big question now is, how can the city afford to pay the attorney, his partner and their associate $550, $550 and $400 an hour, respectively, to enter into what could likely be a lengthy legal battle against staff members when council members are concerned about the municipality’s financial health — and justifiably so.

The agreement approved Tuesday night confirming the law firm’s “engagement” with the city and council members, also includes consent to use, as needed, contract attorneys whose hourly rates range from $260 to $1,000, and legal assistants whose hourly rate is $200.

This does not include costs and expenses for things such as legal research, transcripts, process and witness fees, copies, postage, converting files into the document management program and travel.

And if the city “wins” and is allowed to end the city attorney’s and city manager’s employment, it will have to pay severance packages, which, at this time, totals nearly a half million dollars.

What are the alternatives? How does the city pay for this? Does it raise taxes? Does it cut services? Does it lay off employees?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. But one thing is certain: Chaos reigns.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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