Fairview Heights hires new attorney, retains director

News-DemocratAugust 6, 2013 

The Fairview Heights City Council officially hired a new city attorney and approved a contract Tuesday evening.

Attorney Kevin Hoerner, of the law firm of Becker, Paulson, Hoerner and Thompson P.C., is the new attorney. The city's contract with the firm includes a monthly retainer of $13,500 to attend regular and special meetings of the council and planning commission, provide legal advice and research as requested by the City Council, city administrator or department heads, draft and negotiate contracts, draft and review ordinances, resolutions, legal memos and opinions, provide legal consultation and provide legal services related to tax increment financing matters. In addition to the monthly retainer, the city will also pay the attorney $190 per hour for litigation matters or other special projects and services not covered under the retainer services.

The council was divided about renewing the two-year contract of Amber Miller, who has been the Director of Land Use, Planning and Development since 2011. Mayor Gail Mitchell cast the vote that broke the tie and renewed Miller's contract.

Ward 5 Alderwoman Denise Williams, Ward 1 Alderman Joshua Frawley, Ward 3 Alderman Scott Greenwald, Ward 4 Alderwoman Linda Arnold and Ward 2 Alderman Roger Lowry all voted against renewing Miller's contract.

During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, several people spoke in support of Miller, including members of the Planning Commission who work regularly with her.

Former alderwoman Sandy Baldwin also spoke in favor of Miller and asked that Frawley abstain from the vote on Miller's contract because his father works for the city under Miller's direction.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Carol Warner, before the vote was taken, told the council to think hard before they made a decision, citing the city's reputation for being "toxic" and difficult to work for in a managerial position, both from a "few members of staff and a few members of the City Council."

She said if they did not retain Miller, who has done a good job, she added, then the city would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to work in a hostile environment and be as successful as Miller in the position.

She said the city has a reputation for being a tough employer and anyone who applies for a managerial position is "desperate" or "masochistic."

"This city is so toxic our city administrator abruptly left us last year, not for another job, but to change careers entirely," she said. "He went back to grad school for a new career. That's how bad it is to work for the City of Fairview Heights. We are really, really tough on upper management."

The council gave its initial approval to Michael and Rebecca Collins to open a day spa, Massageluxe, at 6540 N. Illinois St. Normally, an item must be read at City Council meetings twice before a final vote is made.

However, the council voted to move the business request up one reading and it will give its final vote at the next council meeting Aug. 20.

The business expects to open Dec. 10.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Pat Baeske, who did not want to push the item through City Council faster than usual, is concerned that allowing a massage business into the city without first changing the wording of the city's code could open the city open to an influx of less savory massage parlors.

"It's wide open for massage parlors in the city if we don't get our code verbiage fixed," she said. "Our code, as written, does not allow this type of business into the city. I don't think this particular massage spa is a problem, but, I think if we don't change our verbiage in our code, it leaves us wide open for anything to come in."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at jschaaf@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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