Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Colorful Nicknames—Who Is the City Attorney?

By Korine Land
[Kori is an attorney with the firm Levander, Gillen & Miller. She serves as attorney for the cities of Cottage Grove, Randolph, West St. Paul, and South St. Paul, as well as several JPA entities. Do you have a city story to tell? Submit your idea to]

Kori Land is city attorney for Cottage Grove,
Randolph, West St. Paul, and South St. Paul.
 As a city attorney, who am I? “Naysayer,” “Buzz Kill,” “Wet Blanket,” “Party-Pooper.” These are names I have been called in my role as counselor to cities. I prefer to think of myself with titles such as “Reasonable,” “Forward-Thinking,” and “Protective.”

As the League reminds us, city attorneys represent neither the city staff nor the city council. We represent the city. Sometimes our “client” needs protection from the city staff and the council.

The role of the city attorney is both reactive and proactive. We are here to guide cities in matters that suddenly appear (the police K-9 just bit a resident in a park while “off-duty;” the community development director went to a foreclosure sale while you were on vacation and bought a bowling alley) and to be thinking about how to protect the city in the future (drafting an ordinance on e-cigarettes or medical marijuana).

We have prepared ordinances prohibiting circuses and carnivals. We have prepared ordinances both enacting and then repealing the requirement that 10 percent of the charitable gambling proceeds be given to the city. We have reviewed memoranda of understanding that preserve the ability of cities to do something in the future but bind them to absolutely nothing today.

We respond within minutes, hours, days, or months to cities’ requests for review, research, reactions, comments, ordinances, and cover memos. We answer our cell phones on nights, weekends, and early mornings to discuss bail recommendations, emergency press releases, the gift law, or that nuisance property with graffiti. Cities’ needs are complicated (a hazardous building process); their needs are simple (tell the resident the city is not going to cut down his neighbor’s tree). The answer is not always as positive as the city would prefer, but it is thoughtful and it is usually—yes—overly cautious. But that’s ok! Remember that our role is to keep cities out of trouble. So, as a result, we can sound kind of negative, thus resulting in the names mentioned above.

For now, I would like to just keep the nameplate I have, which is “city attorney.” The councils can attach their own colorful nicknames as they see fit.

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