Report Details Frustrations Between Brighton City Manager & Former Attorney
May 24, 2021
By Michael Kruzman & Jon King / email@example.com
The City of Brighton has released the findings of the investigation conducted around the sudden departure of its long-time attorney.
On February 16th, City Attorney Paul Burns notified Brighton City Council that after 40 years in the role as the city’s attorney, he planned to retire; indicating that he wanted to make sure the city had enough time to find a suitable replacement. But then in a surprise follow-up letter on March 4th, Burns notified the council that he would be retiring effective immediately.
There was a suggestion discussed with the Council that Burns’ decision came in light of a heated argument that took place between him and City Manager Nate Geinzer during a February 10th Zoom meeting. City Council authorized City Labor Attorney Greg Schultz to conduct an investigation, which was completed and discussed at last week’s meeting. WHMI obtained a copy of the investigation’s finding after making a request. It is posted below.
In the letter, Schultz said he was unable to gain substantive statements from Burns or his assisting attorney Jeff Alber despite multiple attempts. Despite that, Schultz said the incident stemmed from frustrations surrounding the demolition of a Brownfield Redevelopment Authority building. While everyone was working towards getting the building demolished, Geinzer reportedly felt it was in the City’s best interest to provide money prior to the sale to assist in the demolition. Burns, however, thought that was too risky. Alber reportedly took a critical tone with Community Development Manager Mike Caruso, telling him to “just do your job and get it done with the developer.” At this point, Geinzer is said to have stepped up to defend Caruso, taking exception to the comment, and then repeatedly asking, loudly, “Do you really want to go there?”
Schultz concluded that Geinzer and staff had been becoming increasingly frustrated with their attorneys' perceived slow response times and general unpreparedness on various matters. Schultz said that Geinzer released his frustration after Alber, who had only been working with the City a limited time made his comment.
During previous Council meetings, it had been suggested that the argument in question was profanity-laced. In interviewing Caruso, Geinzer, and 4 members of staff who would have been in ear-shot of the meeting, Schultz concluded there was no profanity outburst at the meeting and that Geinzer’s loud response appeared to be a “one-off” with no evidence that would suggest a pattern of contentious interactions between the parties.
Furthermore, he concluded that based on the facts presented to him, it did not seem reasonable that this single instance was the cause of Burns’ decision to sever his working relationship with the City.
Following a lengthy closed session during their May 20th meeting, City Council motioned to officially close the investigation with no charges taken against the City Manager or staff. That was followed by a 6-1 vote to release the investigation report. Another motion was made to release Burns’ March 4th resignation letter to provide better context, but that was voted down in order to let the City’s new attorney review it for attorney-client privilege. If Council chooses, they may vote on it again at a future meeting.