Richland city attorney presence at meetings draws complaints

RICHLAND — The Richland City Council has had city attorney Phil Parsons attend meetings for the last six months – a controversial decision among taxpayers.

At its meeting Monday night, the council was approached by several residents who were upset over the decision to hire Parsons.

Previously, the council employed John Wehr as the city attorney.

Wehr only attended a handful of meetings in the 16 years he acted as the attorney. If a question arose during the meeting, he was contacted after in order to keep costs low.

Korwin Hinshaw, a Richland resident, spoke up in the opposition of having Parsons present for every meeting.

Hinshaw said when Wehr was the attorney, the town’s valuation increased without his presence at monthly meetings and continuing to ask him to attend was an unnecessary expense to taxpayers.

“If you guys don’t know the ordinances yet you better study them yourself,” he said. “You don’t need somebody to study the ordinances for you.”

Parsons charges the city $175 an hour. With the average council meeting lasting three hours, the cost is generally about $525 a month.

The council budgets $6,500 a year for the attorney. Assuming the council has 12 three-hour meetings a year, the cost averages about to approximately $6,300, slightly below budget.

Dick Green also challenged the council’s decision to request Parsons presence at all meetings. Green said he did not see the need for the lawyer’s presence and asked why he was there.

“Council requested me to be here,” Parsons responded.

Council member Michael Hadley spoke in support of the attorney’s presence, saying many small towns, including nearby Lockridge, have an attorney at every meeting and the practice is not uncommon. However fellow council member Alisa Tolle sided with community members, saying she felt it was difficult for a small town to pay for legal services, and it was an item she would like to look at further in order to decrease costs.

Because the item was not on the agenda, the council was unable to take action at that time. If the council would like to see the item on the agenda, it needs to be requested by a council member.