Brighton Council Authorizes Investigation Into City Attorney's Departure
March 19, 2021
By Mike Kruzman & Jon King / email@example.com
Brighton City Council has authorized an investigation into the incident that led to the City Attorney departing.
Tempers were mostly under control, Thursday night, as City Council continued discussions on the necessity of an investigation of the alleged disagreement in February between City Attorney Paul Burns and City Manager Nate Geinzer that led Burns to tender a letter dated February 16th in which he stated his plan to retire. At Council’s March 4th meeting, a letter was referenced that had been received from Burns that made his departure effective immediately. Councilman Jim Bohn reported hearing of an obscenity-laced argument between the two. Discussion about Bohn’s right to investigate coupled with his request for a closed session with the labor attorney being denied led to heated tempers at that meeting.
WHMI requested a copy of both letters through the Freedom of Information Act. While the February 16th letter was provided, the entirety of the March 4th letter had been redacted, with the city citing attorney-client privilege. Both letters, as released, are posted below.
Labor attorney Gregg Schultz was present, Thursday, to answer questions. However, Councilmember Jon Emaus was upset with Bohn for reaching out to Schultz, accusing him of costing taxpayers money without Council approval. Bohn read from the city charter, interpreting it as giving him that right, and took exception. He said, “All I asked for was a reference, and you know what, it wasn’t a waste of money either, guys. You know what, let’s cut to the chase here. Some guys want to just sweep this under the rug and pretend nothing happened when we know something happened. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the community, we owe it to our residents, we owe it to the city manager, the city staff, the former city attorney to understand what happened. And you know what, City Council’s got a role to play here, cause you know what, we’re at fault too.” Bohn said in 14 years on Council, they have evaluated the City Manager yearly, but never the City Attorney.
Councilwoman Renee Pettingill said she reached out to Burns and heard a heartfelt reaction. She said she feels there is more to this story and would support an investigation so they can get to the bottom of why Burns resigned after decades of representing them.
Mayor Pro Tem Susan Gardner said at face value, Burns’ letters don’t merit an investigation, questioning how you could doubt the written word of an attorney. She said, though, with the comments being made, likely the road they need to take is one with an investigation. She said this has become consuming, and they need to get the record straight.
Councilman Jim Muzzin said during the discussion that he was for everyone who witnessed or overheard the exchange to be asked to be interviewed about the event, but he didn’t want to subpoena people if they chose not to speak. He said they should do an investigation, get better facts, and then decide what to do.
Council directed Schultz to conduct an investigation and report back his findings and any recommendations by a 6-1 vote. Mayor Shawn Pipoly voted against it.
Later in the evening, City Council voted to bring Burns back as City Attorney, under the decision that he did not fulfill his obligations for properly withdrawing from his duties with the courts.