Monday, September 24, 2012

North Canton’s Search for a Full-time Law Director Was a Charade That Calls for Close Examination!

Prepared Comments Made to
September 24, 2012 

       The public announcement at the July 2, 2012, Committee of the Whole meeting of City Council that North Canton Law Director Hans Nilges had submitted his resignation came as a shock to me and I am sure many other city residents. 
       A July 3, 2012, Repository story titled, “North Canton law director resigns,” reports that Mr. Nilges had submitted a resignation letter, dated June 29, 2012. In the story Mr. Nilges states, “…his move was sparked by council’s ‘desire to transition from a part-time director of law to a full-time director of law [and] it is the council’s belief that such a move will result in a savings to the city’….” 
       The resignation of Mr. Nilges came little more than five-months into a one-year professional services agreement that this council approved with the firm of Morrow and Meyer, Ltd., on January 30, 2012, where then Law Director Nilges was a law partner.
       The legislation, Ordinance No. 12-12, authorizing the agreement passed unanimously as “emergency legislation” and was touted as a way to help cut legal costs.
       A January 30, 2012, Repository story titled, “North Canton hires law firm to handle legal matters,” reports, “Councilman Timothy Fox, Ward 3, noted the city is getting good legal service at a rate of $52 per hour. Fox and Councilman Dan Griffith, at-large, both are lawyers and sided with fellow council members to unanimously approve the contract.” 
       In a July 10, 2012, online news report titled, “City Law Director Says Goodbye at Final Council Meeting,” North Canton Patch Editor Morgan Day writes, “Talks of what to do with the city law director position started at council’s Jan. 23 meeting, when members brought up the possibility of a legal firm assuming the duties of the city law director.”  
       How long and in what manner those talks progressed over time to arrive at a decision by City Council to announce the creation of a full-time law director position is a question that requires close examination by individuals with the proper authority.
       The point of my remarks tonight is two-fold.  
       First, I do not believe that the decision to create, for the very first time in the City’s history, a full-time Law Director position for the City of North Canton, appeared spontaneously. I believe, as stated in the North Canton Patch, what to do with the Law Director position was discussed by all members of city council for months. That is my opinion. 
       I also question what remaining council members were thinking or discussing when time after time, the former Ward 3 Council member excused himself from executive sessions in which the announced topic of discussion was either the creation of the full-time Law Director position or the subsequent interview of applicants.
       Didn’t the repeated absence of one of your own Council members at these executive sessions generate concern or raise questions amongst anyone of you in attendance at these meetings held behind closed doors?
       Second, I am stunned by the manner in which the City of North Canton filled the position of full-time Law Director. I am talking about “due process” or should I say the lack thereof. 
       On Sunday, July 8, 2012, the City of North Canton ran a classified employment ad in the Repository, titled Director of Law. The deadline to apply, clearly stated in the ad, was July 16, 2012. The ad cost the City $348.00. 
       The Repository reported sixteen attorneys had applied for the Law Director position in a July 21, 2012, news story and followed with another report on August 30, that five of the sixteen applicants were to be interviewed. 
       A September 4, 2012, North Canton Patch online post titled, “Appointment of City Law Director Still up in the Air” reported the following: “After a round of interviews last Wednesday and Thursday, members of the city’s Personnel and Safety Committee are now ready to present their thoughts about who should be the next North Canton Law Director…. ’It could go pretty quick. We may ask for another round of interviews. We may make an appointment….’ Peters said.” 
       The Patch report gave the names of the five individuals in the running: Stephan Babick of Cleveland, Rodney Baca of North Canton, Julie Bickis of North Canton, Judith Carlin of Hudson, and Donald Wylie of North Canton. 
       After listing the attorneys, the Patch quotes Mr. Peters as saying, “…The interviews went well and all five are clearly qualified for the position – there was no question about that….And in our minds we had a couple that stood out….” 
       Two days later, on September 6, 2012, both the Repository (story titled, “North Canton councilman resigns”) and the North Canton Patch (story titled, “Tim Fox Resigns From Council Seat [to] Pursue Law Director Position”) report that Tim Fox had resigned from Council to pursue the Law Director position. Patch reported that the resignation was effective immediately. 
       Wasn’t the application deadline for the advertised position clearly stated as July 16, 2012?  
       The September 6, Repository story, states, “…Council President Jon Snyder, Ward 4, said council members will interview Fox on Monday evening and council will likely decide then whether to appoint as law director Fox or one of the five candidates interviewed last week….Fox said he decided to apply for the full-time law director position after Councilman Jeff Peters, Ward 2, the chairman of council’s personnel committee, asked him this week if he would be interested in the job.” 
       The Repository continues its report on the resignation of Fox stating, “Peter’s inquiry on Fox’s interest in the job indicates that Fox is the favorite for the position.” 
       There is no arguing with that statement. People do not leave a position voluntarily unless they have a position ready and waiting for them. 
       One would think that attorneys are quite attentive to deadlines and that they understand “due process.” After all, it is safe to say that most attorneys earn their bread and butter insuring that “due process” is followed. “Due process,” is what we all depend on to insure fairness and transparency.
       There was no “due process” for the applicants who responded to the classified employment add for Law Director.
       There was no fairness or transparency for the applicants or for the citizens of North Canton. 
       We have all seen Mayor Held ignore “due process” in his hiring practices as he appoints neighbors and friends to fill high-level positions in the city. That is what we can expect from North Canton’s highest elected official. 
       For city council to totally abandon “due process” and fill the position of Law Director as it has done with the appointment of the former Ward 3 council member is indefensible. 
       The City Law Director is the highest law enforcement officer in the city. How can we expect the City’s Law Director to insure “due process” is followed when there was no “due process” followed when filling that very position?  
       All attorneys have ethical standards and canons they must comply with as officers of the court. That is what makes this situation that much more egregious.
       At the very least, North Canton has a major PR problem as a result of the way it has conducted itself in the search for and appointment to, the full-time position of Law Director.
       At most, North Canton may very well have invited calls for outside review and examination as a result of the apparent “charade” it conducted in the search for its first full-time law director. 
       North Canton can do better than this! 

Thank you,
Chuck Osborne
City of North Canton