Council to pay more for legal services

by Laura Bednar

Dec. 13 city council meeting

Independence City Council approved a fee increase for law director Gregory O’Brien and the firm of Taft Stettinius and Hollister.

The firm will receive a monthly payment of $2,000, up from $1,500, for the law director to attend monthly council meetings and prepare legislation. O’Brien and other Taft attorneys will receive $295 per hour, up from $275 and $265, respectively, for professional services, such as representing the city in court, preparing documents, creating ordinances and attending meetings other than council meetings. The firm’s paralegals will be paid $215 per hour, up from $185.

O’Brien said the last time the rates were increased was when Mayor Greg Kurtz took office in 2020. In a letter to the mayor, O’Brien cited, “current market and industry related headwinds” as the reason for the increase. He also said Independence was one of Taft’s longest-running attorney-client relationships, and the city uses the firm for issues like specialized labor and tax increment financing.

Vice Mayor David Grendel said O’Brien has been law director since the early 2000s.

“I will do this as long as you want me to do it,” said O’Brien, adding that the rates for Independence are lower than the firm’s other clients because of the 50-year relationship between Taft and the city.

Finance Director Vern Blaze said the city spends about $40,000 a month on legal services.

Fuel prices

Procurement Coordinator Dennis Zdolshek asked council to renew the city’s contract with Ports Petroleum Company for unleaded and diesel fuel for city vehicles. Zdolshek broke down the city’s fuel costs since 2020.

“In 2020 we spent $183,000, and in 2021 we spent $241,000; and this year so far through Dec. 12, we spent $390,000 and anticipate two other deliveries. So, we will probably spend $425,000 to $430,000 this year,” he said.

The services are bid through a joint municipal improvement consortium, of which Independence is part, and run from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, 2023. The prices are based on the Oil Price Information Services index.

“It is a commodity index, and then there is a differential that is added to the price; but the price that the city is charged is what the average is for that date of delivery,” said Zdolshek.

Audience participation

Two residents spoke during audience participation regarding the city’s recent purchase of 18 acres behind Concordia Lutheran Church on Brecksville Road. Kurtz said in a November council workshop that he wants to build maintenance-free single-family homes for residents looking to downsize.

“What I am concerned about is the lack of transparency in bringing this resolution to the table,” resident Pam Dengler said. “Mayor Kurtz and some council members state that there has been talk about this property purchase for years. However, it is a quite different scenario to bring to council on first reading in a council workshop, not even a regular council meeting, a presentation to spend $485,000 for a land purchase with no plan, just a vision.”

Dengler said her other concern was the site itself, which is a wooded area.

“With high density buildings and land, there is going to be a serious issue of water runoff,” she said, adding that cutting down the trees would harm the city tree commission’s plan of increasing the number of trees and preserving forest areas.

“I believe that there is a need of housing for an empty-nester within our city limits,’’ she said. “However, I do not believe that the Concordia Church property is the best land and action for that concept.’’

Resident Jeff Blumenthal echoed her concerns.

“I am not against the city’s purchase of the Concordia property,’’ he said. “I am against cutting down 18 acres of mature wooded property, much of which cannot be built on, for a development the city could put on the north side of Stone Road without having to cut down trees, without having to affect residents’ property, and the city already owns the land.”

Alcohol license

The Sunoco gas station at 7099 Brecksville Rd. requested a liquor permit to allow for sale of wine and low proof alcohol. Sunoco previously requested a permit for beer sales only. Kurtz and council members agreed not to object as long as paperwork is in order. ∞