Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Ethics Board Must Hire Outside Counsel. Why?

Confidential opinion involves City Attorney. Bauman thinks he's solved the mystery.

By - Jun 8th, 2021 02:52 pm

Gavel. (Public Domain).

The City of Milwaukee Ethics Board needs to prepare a confidential opinion, a fairly standard request for the citizen-led board.

But in this case, it involves the City Attorney and, as a result, the Ethics Board is unable to use the city’s in-house attorneys.

The presence of the conflict of interest is the only thing publicly available about the case.

Board chair Patricia Hintz appeared before the Judiciary & Legislation Committee Monday to secure approval to hire an outside attorney that was recommended by the City Attorney’s Office.

The resolution pending before the Common Council would allow the Madison-based firm of Boardman & Clark to charge the city up to $15,000 at up to $300 per hour.

Alderman Robert Bauman asked if it involved a “certain real estate transaction,” no doubt a reference to City Attorney Tearman Spencer‘s declaration that Bauman committed an ethics violation in getting Barrett Lo Visionary Development to contribute to an anti-displacement fund in exchange for its requested liability shield on The Couture development. The city will now spend up to $100,000 on outside counsel and a third-party judge to determine who was right.

Hintz declined to say why the outside attorney was needed.

Committee chair Ald. Ashanti Hamilton asked if it created a conflict that the City Attorney’s Office suggested the firm.

Hintz said she didn’t believe so, given that the firm was from outside Milwaukee.

Assistant City Attorney Peter Block noted that a sanitized version of the issue would appear next year in the list of 2021 Ethics Board opinions.

The committee unanimously approved the request, and then moved to review the 2020 report.

“My perception is we have had a very active year,” said Hintz. The report shows that the board responded to three complaints and nine requests for confidential opinions. Seven potential conflict-of-interest issues are publicly addressed.

She said the board is now functioning well with seven members and is able to avoid quorum issues.

Hamilton said word of the board’s stability and efficiency has made its way to him. “I just want to say thank you for that,” he said.

Final approval of the hiring of an outside attorney still requires a majority vote of the full Common Council.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

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