Legal costs

Some would like to see municipal government operate more like a business. While there are arguments to be made for that, there are reasons why it can’t, or shouldn’t.
The main one is because governments’ “stockholders” are taxpayers. Those paying the bills, all of us, need to be able to follow the money, know when it’s being spent, and what it’s being spent on.
When it comes to government, everyone, more or less, is the CEO.
Several Findlay City Council members have raised concerns about a request to transfer $50,000 to a city fund used to pay claims, settlements and other legal costs. More council members should question it as well.
City Law Director Don Rasmussen said he expects the money will be needed later this year to pay for several pending lawsuits.
The city typically budgets $20,000 for this, but that already has been exhausted from bills related to a federal lawsuit settled earlier this year.
Rasmussen said having the $50,000 contingency will keep him from having to go to council for additional money each time he needs it.
Rasmussen would still have to account for the checks he writes, and continue to make council aware of lawsuits and discuss them with council prior to settlement.
But communicating with council is different than communicating with the public.
The settlement the city reached in the federal lawsuit wasn’t publicly disclosed until a reporter became aware of it through a document that was initially only made available to council.
In that case, the city agreed to pay $15,000 to a Findlay woman who sued a police officer, and about $13,000 in legal fees.
The process where the law director must go to council to request funding of insurance money is a needed step to prevent matters like lawsuit settlements from being swept under the rug.
Such matters can be sensitive and embarrassing to the parties involved.
We’re not talking about money needed to buy a new snowplow or to pave a road. We’re talking about bills that the public should be made aware of, not just select council members.
We commend council members Holly Frische and Andy Douglas for questioning the transfer proposal, which is contained in an ordinance containing other funding matters.
No one is suggesting a misuse of funds would take place if the transfer is approved, but some want to maintain a public accounting of city spending.
We hope the transfer gets further public discussion.
The city operates on an annual budget of more than $20 million, so $50,000 may seem to be a drop in the bucket. But giving the law director carte blanche would set bad precedent, and only make city government seem more secretive.


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