North Branch searches for new city attorney, mediator

In the wake of the contentious June 23 North Branch City Council meeting, the city finds itself needing to find a new city attorney to represent them.

During a special meeting held on Monday, July 6, it was revealed Patrick Doran, who during that June 23 meeting faced considerable heat from Mayor Jim Swenson over an extra-large bill, had tendered his resignation. 

At the special meeting, the council approved the sending of requests for proposal for a new city attorney. The council established a timeline for the selection of the new attorney to start immediately, with a deadline for the RFPs being July 31. The council will review the RFPs during the month of August, with the possibility of forming a subcommittee to name finalists should a large number of firms submit an RFP. The council is tentatively scheduled to name the new city attorney at their Sept. 8 meeting. The contract for the new city attorney would be for the remainder of 2020, plus all of 2021.

In the meantime, the council approved appointing the law firm of Kennedy and Graven out of Minneapolis to serve as interim city attorney. Kennedy and Graven, along with two other firms, was recommended by the League of Minnesota Cities as good firms to utilize for at least the short term. City Administrator Renae Fry, who herself is a licensed attorney, told the council they will handle as much of the legal issues internally, but an outside attorney would be required for things such as possible parliamentary questions or other larger items outside her scope.

Council to ask for  conflict resolution assistance

With hindsight being what it is, the council unanimously approved instructing staff to contact Pam Whitmore, who is a mediation manager with the League of Minnesota Cities. Mayor Swenson had actually made a motion to that effect back in March, but that was rejected by the council.

“The reason that I asked for (her) back in March is because I knew we had problems going on,” Swenson said, while at the same time indicating her services may not now be available. “I don’t know if we can get her to come. We can pray that she will come up here.

“The League is not happy with our city right now,” he continued, referencing a memo sent to the city regarding their recent discourse over the Water & Light Commission. “We are sitting out on an island right now. We have a boat that is sitting out there if we want to take it and get help. If we don’t, we’re going to be out on that island by ourselves.”

If for whatever reason the council wasn’t able to secure the services of Whitmore, the council approved instructing Fry to search for a private mediation firm to provide assistance.

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