Black Diamond fights over agendas, attorneys continue; city without engineering staff or on-call contracts

The Oct. 20 Black Diamond City Council meeting was uncharacteristically restrained, with little in the way of unchecked emotion and even less action and content.

The Oct. 20 Black Diamond City Council meeting was uncharacteristically restrained, with little in the way of unchecked emotion and even less action and content.

First came the inevitable argument between Councilwoman Pat Pepper and Mayor Carol Benson over the proper agenda for the night, followed quickly by the subsequent recess and executive session called by Benson.

This was the first executive session that was attended by council members Brian Weber, Erika Morgan and Pepper in four council meetings.

Pepper, Weber and Morgan refused to attend the last three executive sessions with Kenyon Disend attorneys, saying that the council has not approved the firm’s employment with the city and reserved the right to contract with their own counsel, which Benson has denied.

Morgan explained later in an email interview that the difference between this executive sessions and others was this was led by attorney Peter Altman, who was representing the Black Diamond Police Officer’s Association and their collective bargaining agreement with the city, which was on the docket for that night.

The executive session was followed by the collective bargaining agreement, brought to the floor by Councilwoman Tamie Deady, who had to talk over Pepper and Benson’s arguing over the agenda.

It probably came to no one’s surprise that Pepper voiced that she wanted the contract to be moved to committee for discussion and review, with Morgan agreeing.

Councilwoman Janie Edelman said the contract being discussed has been practically the same for the past six years, with only minor changes.

Pepper said there was no rush to pass the contract, so it wouldn’t hurt to hold it for one more week, saying she expected it to come back to council during the Nov. 3 council meeting for action.

When all was said and done, the vote to pass the contract was derailed by Pepper’s call to postpone it, and the council voted unanimously to bring it back up Nov. 3.

The postponement was criticized by Economic Development Director Andy Williamson, who was representing the city’s teamsters during the city’s final public comment period at the end of the night.

Williamson said that 20 city employees are now represented by the Local 117 and that they were concerned about their contracts with the city, especially since the police contract was postponed.

The teamsters will not react positively to the council postponing their contract, Williamson said, adding that they’ll view such a move by the council as an “unfair business practice.”

After postponing the contract, Morgan pulled the Kenyon Disend claim check off the consent agenda.

The firm’s claim check was also pulled from the Oct. 6 consent agenda as well.

Both were pulled because Pepper, Weber and Morgan have said the Kenyon Disend firm, on top of not being approved by the council to work with the city, has given “incomplete,” and “self serving” advice, Morgan said during the Oct. 6 meeting.

The council majority also sees issues with Benson performing what they call “serial contracting.”

Under Black Diamond Municipal Code, the mayor has the power to approve a $1,500 or less contract without council approval.

However, the mayor has signed multiple $1,500 contracts with Kenyon Disend to keep them employed with the city.

Pepper, Weber and Morgan argue that this serial contracting, while it might not be expressly against the city’s code, definitely circumvents the intent of the code, Morgan said.

Benson said that she’s required by law to employ a city attorney.

The council voted to not approve the claim check in a 3-2 vote. Benson said she will deny the council’s decision and will pay the firm.

NO ENGINEERS AVAILABLE

The biggest news of the night was learning that Black Diamond currently has no professional engineers available on staff and no contracts with outside engineers.

The announcement came from Williamson, who explained that Public Works Director Seth Boettcher was injured in a car wreck and cannot currently perform his duties as a certified engineer.

Additionally, the council never got around to looking at an on-call services contract with RH2 during the Oct. 6 meeting.

Boettcher was slotted by the mayor to present the contract for on-going water and sewer engineering services to the council that meeting, but a separate agenda submitted by Pepper did not have the contract on the agenda, and Boettcher ultimately did not deliver his presentation to the council.

But even though the city is without its own engineers, or on-going engineering services with RH2, “I am obligated by state law, if someone brings in an application requiring engineering services, a plat, any of that type of work, I need to process that,” Williamson told the council on Oct. 20.

Since Williamson in required to process these applications with or without engineers to examine them, the city may be held liable if something goes wrong.

Pepper moved to bring the contract back to council on Nov. 3, and the motion was unanimously approved.

Weber pointed out that Benson has the power to approve a $1,500 with RH2 for on-call engineering services, which could be a temporary fix until the full contract gets through council.

As of Oct. 31, the city has not entered a $15,000 contract with RH2, Benson confirmed.

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