Dearborn Heights — During a recent meeting, the Dearborn Heights City Council announced that it currently does not have a valid contract with its corporation counsel and voted to remove charges billed until a valid contract is in place.
The items listed under the city’s current claims and fund transfers included a charge of $16,423 for counsel services from Gary Miotke as well as counsel services from Secrest, Wardle, Lynch, Hampton, et al. in the amount of $7,982.
Councilman Bill Bazzi brought the question forward as to what the charges were for and Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell said that she wasn’t sure why they were even included.
“That’s our former Corporate Counsel Gary Miotke’s fault,” Malinowski-Maxwell said. “Actually, I’m not sure why that’s even on here as we don’t have a valid contract with him at this time. That would be a violation of the charter to even approve that item.”
Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton agreed and said it’s a matter of being in alignment with what the charter requires.
“There isn’t a current contract as required by the charter,” she said. “My question was being in alignment with what the charter requires in regards to being punctual in paying a bill for services when we don’t have a contract. I don’t believe we are in alignment on what the charter requirements are.”
Malinowski-Maxwell said that technically Miotke’s contract was up in April.
“I know that he was appointed until April,” she said. “Then the mayor had the right to, according to charter, extend it to May, but nothing in the charter allows the mayor or Council to go beyond that point.”
Councilman Ray Muscat said that it’s not fair.
“I understand what everyone’s saying about the no contract,” he said. “But we still need legal representation from someone here, and if we’ve gotta keep what we have now because of COVID, it behooves us to approve this as submitted.”
Mayor Paletko said that he’s been waiting for the Council to make the move.
“In accordance with the charter, I submitted a recommendation that Gary Miotke be reappointed as corporation counsel,” he said. “There was no response to that specifically; it was tabled. And consequently, the words from Council chair and some Council members were that he would continue until the COVID situation was over.
“As I indicated to you, I cannot do personal interviews at this point, and that was in agreement. As it relates to some of these charges, the treasurer asked Mr. Miotke to do a legal opinion, which he is wrapping up to satisfy the new treasurer’s request.”
You were aware back in November that this might have been an issue. You had fair warning before the pandemic even hit. At this point, we can’t do it. — Council Chairwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell
Bazzi said COVID is not a valid excuse.
“We appointed a treasurer and a city clerk over Zoom,” he said. “And the mayor put in front of so many items, including a budget of $20 million, over Zoom. I don’t understand why he can’t interview someone over Zoom.”
Malinowski-Maxwell said that the mayor should have known this was coming.
“You were aware back in November that this might have been an issue,” she said. “You had fair warning before the pandemic even hit. At this point, we can’t do it. Our charter is our law and we are breaking the law if we approve this. I took an oath of office to follow the law.”
Paletko said that he is still waiting for a response on his recommendation, despite Malinowski-Maxwell believing it failed.
“No, you tabled it,” he said. “You didn’t approve or disapprove of it.”
Councilman Bob Constan said that Miotke was the lowest bidder and had the most experience.
“I don’t know what the alternative is,” he said. “We need somebody prosecuting our ordinance violations at the court and dealing with our department heads. We need to have a city attorney. We’re at a stalemate.”
Councilman Dave Abdallah said the problem he has is that it was always too open-ended.
“It was too open-ended when we said we would wait until COVID is over,” he said. “That’s an arbitrary number or statement. When is it over? We had no timeline of when we would readdress it. It’s not fair to have a firm do all the work and then when all the work is done, 30 days later, we say we aren’t going to pay them. That’s not right.”
Councilman Tom Wencel agreed that refusing to pay is saying Miotke worked for free.
“Was the corporate counsel instructed not to do any work and were all city employees instructed not to ask him to do any work?” he said. “If that’s not the case, then I think that we should do that if that’s what we decide to do; but since we haven’t done that, it’s only fair to pay him up until this point.”
Malinowski-Maxwell said that Miotke should have known better.
“My thing is that Corporate Counsel Miotke interprets our charter all the time,” she said. “He knows it inside and out and he knows what is required and what’s not.
“So he should have brought at least a temporary contract to us to approve. I have no problem if he brings a contract to us, let us approve it and then we can pay it. We need a contract to cover ourselves and I am not going against the charter.”
Muscat said it’s unacceptable to not have an attorney.
“Regardless of contract or no contract, we need an attorney,” he said. “And I really don’t care at this point in time who it is.
“Right now, we have Mr. Miotke as the attorney and Secrest, Wardle doing all of this work. If we decide to tell these people to stop working right now, we might as well shut the city down. We have to have legal representation.”
During this discussion, Malinowski-Maxwell refused to allow Miotke to speak.
“He is not our corporation counsel right now,” she said. “This is for Council people only.”
The Council agreed to vote on all claims except for the two charges for corporate counsel in a 5-2 vote. The two charges were referred back to the administration along with a contract, which was approved in a 6-1 vote with Constan voting no.
Miotke spoke during the public comment at the end of the meeting and was denied any additional time past the three-minute time limit.
I had spoken to the mayor about this and he had said yes. So I asked the Council chair, and the Council chair clearly said yes and said that I would continue to be doing work during the COVID emergency — Corporation Counsel Gary Miotke
“Recognize that this is more a matter of clarifying certain things,” Miotke said. “And if it’s not clarified, then I might assume certain things. Let’s be clear on a few things here.
“Under the charter, there is no necessity of a written agreement to end up having a contract. This has never been done or practically at all for anyone doing legal work for the city. It’s not a necessity and it’s not a requirement.”
Miotke also said that when the motion to extend his appointment was not seconded, he asked for clarification at that time.
“I specifically asked the council chair if I was holding over,” he said. “Because in part, I had spoken to the mayor about this and he had said yes. So I asked the Council chair, and the Council chair clearly said yes and said that I would continue to be doing work during the COVID emergency.”
If things are not cleared up, Miotke said he may need to take it to court.
“I want to be very clear that if the position is that all of the attorneys I’m holding over, then I’ll hold over,” he said. “If the position is that I’m not holding over, then I’m not sure if I should be talking to the mayor in regards to this or if I should just basically bring a judgement action to ask the court whether or not I am holding over or not holding over and what my authority is. If I’m not authorized, then none of the other attorneys are authorized as well.”
Miotke then asked if he and his team were to continue or not and he was advised it would be discussed at the next meeting.
Miotke: Council is being given “given bad legal advice”
Miotke told The Arab American News that all of this is rather alarming to him.
“Council chair had indicated previously that it was understood that I would continue until the state of emergency was over,” he said. “There are several other attorneys that are technically considered my co-counsel that may not get paid, either. I’m not sure where she came to the conclusion that these things require contracts, as we are appointed by the mayor and then just confirmed by Council.”
Having had no issues being paid for services at every other Council meeting up to this point, Miotke said he believes this to be political.
“I believe there’s a fundamental misunderstanding over these contracts, as it’s never been done the way she is talking,” he said. “I believe they are being given bad legal advice and the ramifications are not being thought through all the way.
“If you don’t have expertise on a subject, you need to hear from someone who does, not cut them off and refuse to let them speak. This is alarming and potentially dangerous for the city. I’m not sure what the intent is of the Council, but they are very inconsistent, which leads me to believe this is all political.”