- Your Town
City Council and former mayor scolded
A prominent local business owner blamed the Dillon City Council at its meeting last Wednesday for prolonging a pair of long-running legal cases, while also chastising the defendant in one of those cases.
“I’m scolding the Council, or whatever you want to call it here, for continuing this when the public wants it over — they are tired of paying any money,” said Brenda Womack during the public comment section at the end of the Feb. 19 regular City Council meeting.
“George,” added Womack, turning to former Dillon Mayor George Warner, the defendant in one of the cases. “I’m putting you on the spot. You and your attorney may not agree with me, but the community wants this ended. We’re done. We don’t wanna pay any more. We don’t know what your fight is, and we don’t even care. We just want it done!
“Council, same thing: we want this to come to an end. We’re tired of paying,” said Womack, as a round of applause for her comments erupted from the public seating area.
More than four years ago, the City of Dillon filed lawsuits against Warner and former City Councilperson Martin Brenekke over the pair’s refusal to allow and pay for the installation of new water meters on their private properties.
The city has since racked up almost $40,000 in legal fees paid to former City Attorney Duke Gilbert for pursuing those cases.
Current Dillon Mayor Mike Klakken fired Gilbert earlier this month after saying he found out Gilbert had more than doubled his legal fees on the cases in the previous two and a half months in pursuing reimbursement of legal fees from the defendants.
Womack blamed the Council for continuing the expensive legal wrangling in the cases by endorsing Gilbert’s pursuit of reimbursement for legal fees since judgment was handed down in the Warner case late last year, approximately a year after judgment had been handed down in the Brenekke case.
The day after Gilbert’s firing, seven City Council members (David Spehar, Lynn Westad, Swede Troedsson, Derek Gore, Dick Achter, Bill Shafer and Bob Cottom) signed and sent a letter to the judge overseeing the Warner case, saying the majority of the Council disagreed with the mayor and believed Gilbert should continue pursuing the case.
At a special City Council meeting the following week, the same seven voted to approve a resolution to hire Gilbert to continue work on four cases he was wrapping up before getting fired, including the Warner and Brenekke cases.
Councilperson Dan Nye voted against the resolution.
Womack advised the Council that even if Gilbert gained a judgment against Warner and Brenekke for reimbursement of legal fees, the city had no guarantee of receiving a penny.
The owner of Womack’s Printing Place in downtown Dillon, told the Council she had gotten a judgment for attorney fees in a lawsuit, but never received any money from the person she won the judgment against.
“Personally, I’ve gotten a judgment — that doesn’t mean I got anything but the bill from the lawyer. The person I sued did not pay; they filed for bankruptcy, and I got nothing except an attorney bill,” said Womack, who at a contentious special City Council meeting the previous week had questioned whether the seven City Council members who signed the letter to the judge had violated an open meeting law in the process.
“I don’t know what you want,” told the Council, “but I think you ought to ask the public. They’re just tired. And that’s why everybody is fighting and slamming each other,” continued Womack.
“I don’t get any work done all day because people keep calling and saying, ‘this town is an embarrassment, we’re embarrassed of the City Council, we’re embarrassed and tired of it. I’m just asking you: can we grow up, can we put our big drawers on and get on with this?”
Councilperson Bill Shafer responded that if Womack read the briefs in the cases’ legal file in the county courthouse, she would understand why the Council wanted Gilbert to pursue legal costs, and that Warner and Brenekke were the ones responsible for the cases dragging on for over four years.
“They made a motion to continue it until February 28, and it’s right in that file,” said Shafer.
Womack insisted that the city “fired the last shot” in the cases by pursuing reimbursement for legal fees in January, and that Brenekke and Warner were just asking for time to study their options in lieu of that development.
“They asked for an extension after you fired this last shot. Now, if you were an attorney, you’d want to study it and file a motion also,” said Womack.
“Read the briefs in the case, I was amazed when I read them today,” said Shafer.
“The citizens want the circus to end, we want this to go away,” said Womack, who also chided Councilperson Swede Troedsson for saying in a recent newspaper article that Mayor Klakken had a conflict of interest in the cases because of his past association with Warner and Brenekke, when several members of the Council had also worked with the pair when Warner was mayor and Brenekke sat on the City Council.
“It seems to be the oldest trick in the book, where we’re pointing at one person and not discussing anybody else,” said Womack.
Longtime city resident Tim Gore stood to deliver this message: “I just wanted to say that this meeting was going along real good tonight — for a while. I just want to give you an old saying: if a lie is told enough times, it becomes the truth.
“I’ve been coming here eight years to these City Council meetings. And the same people who have complained for eight years are the ones behind me. Okay, I disagree with them. You don’t represent everyone in the town, you guys,” said Gore, who also received applause for his statement.
“That’s all I have to say.”