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City attorney retains job by one vote

City Attorney Kent McIlyar
City Attorney Kent McIlyar

City Attorney Kent McIlyar came within one vote of losing his job Monday.

“I’m not very happy with the performance of the city attorney in the last few months. I have multiple concerns, which include not representing the council as a whole and not giving documents to council members,” Councilman AJ Hashmi said after a 35-minute closed session for McIlyar’s performance review. “I would like to make a motion that the services of the city attorney be terminated.”

Councilwoman Sue Lancaster seconded the motion. Councilman Aaron Jenkins joined them, but Mayor Matt Frierson, Mayor Pro-Tem Richard Grossnickle and councilmen Benny Plata and Edwin Pickle voted against.

“I have received no performance evaluation for the last year, so I think that’s a highly unusual motion to make,” McIlyar said.

Hashmi said he asked for the evaluation as a public discussion item, but Frierson had it changed to a closed session. That sort of decision should be left up to the council, he said. Hashmi said Frierson called for transparency and unity when he became mayor, but has acted to the contrary, and the council has become “broken.”

“Hopefully at some point, we get over this and we quit arguing and move forward,” he said. “I feel you’re running it like a dictatorship and not like a democracy.”

At the time, Frierson had no comment other than to call the closed session. After the meeting he would only say, “I will not dignify that with a response.”

The evening started with Lancaster’s request for McIlyar to give his duties and responsibilities. He read the job description, which includes preparation of legal documents, contracts and ordinances; legal advice and representation; and interpretation and review of documents.

Lancaster said McIlyar failed in his job when he refused to turn over a preliminary report from Defenbaugh & Associates regarding the Paris Economic Development Corp. investigation.

District 2 City Councilwoman Sue Lancaster
District 2 City Councilwoman Sue Lancaster

Frierson said that might be beyond the scope of the agenda item. Lancaster accused him of trying to gag her.

“I’m not going to be shut up,” she said. “Do I need to be shut up?”

Audience members said, “No.”

Lancaster said she had a right to the preliminary report as a council member. McIlyar said he could not because the report was not a city document.

“That is a draft report from a third party investigator hired by the Paris Economic Development Corp.,” he said. “I am not at liberty to release that to you or anyone without approval from the council.”

When Hashmi started on his dissatisfaction with the city attorney’s performance, McIlyar objected. He said any problems the council had with him as an employee should be done in closed session.

“As a city employee, you cannot ask for a closed session,” Hashmi said. “You can ask for an open session, but a closed session is a City Council decision.”

“It’s inappropriate, sir,” McIlyar replied. “It’s also unethical and unprofessional.”

Frierson said once again the discussion was venturing beyond the posted agenda. Hashmi said he was wrong, which led to a brief, tense exchange.

“You’re asking for it,” Hashmi replied, laughing.

McIlyar said the matter was a council decision, but he felt both Defenbaugh and PEDC needed to give their OK to releasing the information to council members due to confidentially clauses in their contract.

“I have not shared it with anyone outside my staff in the city attorney’s office,” he said. “It’s the council’s pleasure. If you want be to burn it, I’ll burn it tonight. I’m just saying I need direction from the council.”

Plata said he could “see his point, myself” and made a motion for McIlyar to hand it over after PEDC and Defenbaugh sign off on it. His motion died for lack of a second. After further discussion, Lancaster made largely the same motion, adding that she wanted it within two weeks. Hashmi seconded the motion, which passed unanimously – including several “ayes” from the audience.

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