Thursday, October 22, 2015

Research Q of the Week: Six Tips for Working with Your City Attorney (10/22)

Question: I'm a newer councilmember and I haven't quite figured out how to interact with the city's attorney. Do you have some advice for working with a city attorney? 

Answer: The relationship between the city and its attorney is important—and it's great that you want to know more. Here are some tips to help strengthen this relationship and protect the city from liability.

1.) Tell your city attorney what you are going to do before you do it.
If you wait until after the deed is done, it will be too late for your city attorney to advise you on the legal consequences of the city’s action. If possible, obtain your city attorney’s advice before taking action.       

2.) Be candid with your city attorney.
City attorneys cannot give you their best advice unless you are completely candid. The answer to almost every question depends upon the facts. Accurately tell your city attorney all the facts.

3.) Hold regular meetings with your city attorney.
If possible, have your city attorney attend all council meetings. If this is not possible, meet regularly with your city attorney and send the city attorney copies of your meeting minutes.

4.) Send your city attorney a copy of the council agenda before the meeting.
Let your city attorney review agenda items and staff reports before the council meeting. The city attorney should not learn about a potentially problematic action for the first time at a meeting.

5.) Don’t demand an opinion from your city attorney at a meeting.

A city attorney does not immediately have the answer to every question. Give your city attorney time to properly research and analyze an issue.

6.) Make sure you understand the city attorney’s advice.
You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t understand your city attorney’s advice. Ask questions if you don’t understand what your city attorney is telling you.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: or (651) 281-1232.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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