Accordign to the agenda, Tuesday’s Special Session of Portsmouth City Council was called to entertain legislation to hire an attorney to represent City Council in upcoming pending litigation. The legislation itself was an ordinance authorizing the employment of Attorney Mark McCown of Ironton to represent council regarding matters including, but not limited to, employment, discipline and termination of Derek K. Allen as City Manager. The ordinance also called for the allocation of funds to pay for McCown’s services at a rate of $250.00 per hour, with a retainer fee of $5,000.00 and an amount in total, not to exceed $50,000.00.
Several citizens present in Council Chambers voiced their concerns on council potentially using $50,000.00 of tax payer money to secure outside council.
Sharon Bender was one of those citizens.
“I just want to say that I am sickened at the fact we have something like this go this far,” said Bender. “You’re spending the citizen’s money, I don’t think you have polled your people in your particular wards to find out if they agree with what you’ve done so far or not, but I consider it a total waste of money and it’s our money you’re wasting.”
Mark Hunter, also expressed his thoughts with the decisions being made by council.
“Again I find myself having to come forward before City Council and ask for common sense. Please return to the mediation table, if mediation was ended in a way other than it has been publicized, you need to tell the public,” said Hunter. “You’re a council. Since this process has started, people have come forward 3 to 1, or 4 to 1 telling you to stop, slow down and be transparent. Involve us. You represent us and individual wards, but you’re a council and we’re not getting heard. We’re in a democracy, and I don’t understand what’s going on. I for one, I don’t like it. I’d like to see a forum where you all can answer questions, where the public can ask you questions and you tell us what you know, or don’t know. Tell us your motivations, is it personal? Is there things that have been said, that’s offended you? We need to know this. Because the allegations that’s been made, there’s been nothing put forth publicly to substantiate, and that’s very very concerning. So, I’m going to appeal to you once again, to have a cooler head, to have common sense, return to mediation, if that’s the best path. Open the channel up once again, don’t hire an attorney to go down a path that’s going to set us back four decades again, I don’t think our town can survive that again. So again, I’m just pleading with you again to think about what you’re doing and consider the future of our city,” continued Hunter.
Additionally, among those who spoke out against Council’s recent actions, was former City Councilman, Kevin W. Johnson of the 1st Ward. Johnson, who supported Allen during his time on council, questioned the process taken by council members.
“First, I want to say I am deeply disturbed that half of council hasn’t bothered to even look up and listen to the people who have come before you to speak, too busy doing other things. Secondly, I’m disappointed that council has gotten to this point. There is a process, and unfortunately from December 18 on, the process hasn’t been followed. I’m very disappointed,” said Johnson.
After remarks from citizens were heard by council, Councilwoman Jo Ann Aeh moved to suspend the rule requiring an ordinance be read on three separate dates. All members, with the exception of Kevin E. Johnson, voted in support of the suspension. Aeh then made the motion that the ordinance be passed. When Mayor Kalb asked council members if there were questions or comments on the motion for passage, Kevin E. Johnson spoke out.
“I just want to reiterate, this was brought up at our meeting at Portsmouth High School, in the gymnasium. I made a point at that time, saying I believe our Solicitor is our legal representation. Fast forward, now our solicitor has said he can’t go forward with being our representation. So, we’re looking at $5,000 to retain a lawyer. We’re looking at $50,000 at least, $250 dollars an hour folks. I remember a few years in my life, where I didn’t even make $50,000 for two or three years. I believe that is an unnecessary burden, do you know who’s paying that $50,000? (he motioned toward the residents present in council chambers) Take a look at your neighbors,” said Kevin E. Johnson. ” I will not support this, I would support us going back into the room with our solicitor and somehow putting our heads together and working this out.”
Kevin E. Johnson then asked Solicitor Haas if, in his legal opinion, that since all parties involved were present, if it would be possible to enter into an executive session to work through the issues once and for all. Haas stated that he believed that would be possible at any time, but would recommend council to speak with McCown, but ultimately felt the parties could resolve the case at any time.
Although City Manager Derek Allen,who was present in council chambers, agreed with Kevin E. Johnson on entering into the executive session to resolve issues, other council members stated they would not agree without legal representation.
Undeterred by the remarks of citizens and fellow council member Johnson, the remaining members of council voted in favor of the ordinance, and the ordinance was passed 5 to 1.
Reach: Ivy Potter (740) 353-3101 Extension 1932