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August 15, 2020

7/15/2020 10:26:00 AM
North Branch special meeting names interim law firm, OK's RFPs

Monday night this week the North Branch City Council met in special session to fill the void left by the city law firm’s resignation reportedly presented June 25. (The resignation letter is being held as confidential.) 

The former firm had assigned two lawyers as legal counsel for the city, and one was specifically assigned to North Branch Water & Light Commission.  Attorney Vince Stevens resigned that in August last year, (this correspondence was also withheld.)  The lawyer who attended to the city council’s affairs, Patrick Dolan,  tendered his resignation June 25.

North Branch Mayor Jim Swenson commented this week on the urgent need to find a firm that will work for North Branch.  The mayor said that the League of Minnesota Cities, a professional good-government group that hundreds of municipalities belong to -- “...won’t help us, we are on our own now.” 

In reference to a letter, not made available to the public, he said, “...as we saw in the letter they want us to clean up our act.”
The plan as presented Monday night was to get a temporary law firm on-board now, and use the next few weeks to solicit proposals from firms.  

The schedule that was adopted calls for a decision on or around September 8.  The new full contract for services might not start for a while , however, as the city budget is already at the mid-way point for 2020  and most legal firms are already committed to another municipality for 2020.  City Administrator Renae Fry advised the new law firm  contract should go through the end of 2021 at least.

Council member Kelly Neider made the first motion for an interim firm, from a list of three who’d told Fry they’d be willing to take the post temporarily.  Neider’s motion failed, with only Mayor Swenson voting yes.

Council member Brian Voss noted the firm in Neider’s motion is more than 60 percent an hour more expensive than the firm the city just had.  Voss motioned for Kennedy & Graven, which was unanimously adopted.  Voss acknowledged this firm is still an increase, but more acceptable. 

Council member Kathy Blomquist pointed out Kennedy & Graven can offer expertise in parliamentary procedure, which “...is a large part of our problems,” she concluded.

Fry also suggested naming a council member or two onto a subcommittee to review applications and resumes of legal firms that reply to the request for proposals (RFPs) North Branch is distributing. The subcommittee will forward the top semi finalists for the full council to do public interviews August 24 to 30 approximately. 

Council consensus was to hold-off until the applications close the end of July, and “see how many we get.”

Update on earlier Press document request: 
The Chisago County Press reported last month, the Water & Light Commission  hired a contract employee on June 16 to a newly-created position of utility Finance Director.  

The Press contacted the new staffer Brenda Jepsen  June 18 for a copy of the employment agreement  and was advised it had not been written and typed up yet.  

July 7, a copy arrived via e mail with the utility commission chair and Jepsen’s signatures at the bottom of the last page,  hand-dated in ink June 17 2020.

Jepsen’s contract runs 18 months, at $85,000 per year. 

The new Water & Light General Manager (not yet announced) will decide when the 18 months expires,  if the position “is still needed.”
Should Jepsen be terminated during the 18 months she receives six months’ pay in a lump sum and receives salary for an additional six months.

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