Council Accepts City Attorney’s Resignation

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Thursday June 23, 2016

City Attorney Jim Barlow submitted his letter of resignation June 13; his last day with the city will be July 1. At the June 20 city council meeting, members expressed their heartfelt appreciation for Barlow’s service, work ethic, and expertise.

Barlow joined the city staff in November of 2013 as the city’s first “in house” counsel. He came to South Burlington after serving for nine years as the senior staff attorney with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), where he developed a reputation for being a knowledgeable expert on the legal issues Vermont municipalities face.

During his time with the city, Barlow assumed many of the legal duties that the city used to contract out to a private law firm, thereby reducing the city’s outside legal costs and providing continuity. Some of his responsibilities included drafting and review of ordinances, policies, contracts and other legal documents, Open Meeting Law and Public Records Act compliance, land use planning and regulation, employment and finance law, and interpretation and application of laws relating to the operation of Vermont local government.

In an email to The Other Paper Barlow wrote, “It has been a tremendous experience working with Kevin Dorn, Tom Hubbard, and the great staff at City Hall and a privilege to serve as South Burlington’s city attorney. I am stepping back from my responsibilities as city attorney to refresh my perspective on being a lawyer and reconnect that part of the legal profession that has always motivated me to do my best — helping others.”

Riehle and the other councilors present expressed deep regret at having to ‘approve’ Barlow’s resignation.

Of Barlow’s service, Chair Helen Riehle said, “You’ve been wonderful to work with and we were smart to have a city attorney rather than a retainer; I appreciated and respected how you worked with never made a decision that was not in the best interest of the city.”

Over the past several weeks Barlow has provided counsel as city councilors have considered a resolution to join in the federal F35 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) litigation, Zbitnoff et al v. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, as a party plaintiff along with the Stop the F35 Coalition and 6 Chittenden County residents, with the purpose to receive more information regarding safety and noise issues not addressed in the current Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). On the evening of June 13, at a special meeting, Barlow briefed the council about their options for joining the lawsuit as amicus, a full party, or not at all. Tensions were high in the packed room, as a divided council grappled with the topic. Councilor Tom Chittenden demanded that fellow councilor Meaghan Emery recuse herself from the proceedings and said he believed she had a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. Emery denied his charges, and Barlow reviewed the city’s ethics policy for councilors, noting that it is up to each individual councilor to recuse, if they have a conflict of interest. Chittenden challenged Barlow’s point, and made a motion to receive a third party legal advisement. The motion was seconded by Pat Nowak, who also asked for a ‘higher level’ opinion, but it ultimately failed in a vote, 3-2. It was noted that the Attorney General does not have jurisdiction over the city’s policies.

Barlow responded by stating his obligation to the City of South Burlington is to provide legal advice for its governing body, noting that the body works through the will of its majority.

The debate over the F35 lawsuit continues in a public meeting Wednesday, June 22, after press time.

City Manager Kevin Dorn says that in a city like South Burlington there are new legal issues arising almost daily. Prior to Barlow coming on board they either had to take questions to outside counsel for answers and the accompanying expense, or they risked having non-lawyers making legal decisions. Barlow made many contributions in terms of his impact on bigger legal issues, which was very significant, but equally as valuable was his impact as a legal resource to staff on a day-to-day basis; he truly proved the value of having in-house counsel.

In a written statement Dorn added, “I know all of the members of our city government team join me in our sadness in seeing Jim move on. Jim is an extremely capable attorney and he provided great legal advice and support to virtually every function of city government. Jim has an amazing ability to consume and process information and then repeat it back in terms that the layperson can understand. Jim not only provided legal counsel, but he was an important and valued member of our management team. Jim’s service here in City Hall also validated our expectation of the value of having in-house counsel. We will miss Jim and wish him all good things in the future.”

After accepting Barlow’s resignation, a secondary motion was made to appoint Robert Stitzel of Stitzel, Page, and Fletcher as city attorney effective July 2.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent