Belleville council OKs mayoral appointments, residency requirements for attorney

News-DemocratMay 6, 2013 

— The Belleville City Council unanimously voted Monday to approve the mayor's staff and aldermanic committee appointments, and residency requirements for the city attorney.

Aldermen voted 15-0 to approve, on a temporary basis, Mayor Mark Eckert's appointments for department heads and staff members.

Eckert said he wanted to give the newly elected aldermen time to review the employees' credentials before voting on the staff appointees, which are mostly the same from the year before.

The council likely will vote on the appointments again at the next regularly scheduled council meeting May 20.

Monday night's City Council meeting was the first public meeting for seven city officials -- five aldermen, clerk and treasurer -- who were elected April 9.

One aldermanic seat is vacant until Eckert appoints someone to fill the seat of former Ward 4 Alderman Dean Hardt, who is now treasurer.

The council spent most of the meeting discussing a proposed ordinance requiring the city attorney to: maintain private practice within the city limits of Belleville; lease or own a legal office building in Belleville for more than one year; reside in Belleville or within five miles of city limits; not reside in a municipality other than Belleville; agree to be annexed into the city; and satisfy these requirements throughout the appointment and for one year before the appointment.

Of the proposed requirements, aldermen only could agree on one: The city attorney has to live in Belleville or within 10 miles of the city limits.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult characterized the residency requirements as "archaic" and said limiting the pool of candidates prevents the city from hiring the best, most qualified person.

Eckert said he is personally looking for a candidate who is well-versed in municipal law, has been practicing for at least 10 years and is personally invested in the city of Belleville.

Eckert also said he's concerned there could be a personal conflict of interest for attorneys who live in other cities when they have to represent Belleville in cases where the city has to negotiate with abutting cities over issues such as annexation or sewers.

Interim City Attorney Thom Peters recommended that language in the city ordinance be updated before Eckert started searching for someone to fill the position permanently.

The current ordinance that pertains to the city attorney outlines the duties for the position but does not outline residency requirements.

Anyone the city hires on a full-time basis or appointed as a department head has to become a Belleville resident within 15 months from the start of employment.

Eckert, however, said the city attorney position is a one-year appointment. Therefore, the 15-month residency requirement would not be fitting because the attorney could serve a one-year term without ever moving into the city.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden asked why the requirements wouldn't also apply to the assistant city attorney.

And, Hayden said that if the city is going to review requirements for the city attorney position, then it is a good time to consider treating the attorney as a contracted position and not provide the person with health insurance or pension benefits.

Hayden asked for the proposed ordinance to be discussed further in committee, but the motion was struck down.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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