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Proposed $150,000 appropriation for council consultants sparks debate during Valpo Council meeting

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The Valparaiso City Council is considering setting aside some cigarette tax revenue to hire its own attorney and outside consultants.

During last week's meeting, Council President Robert Cotton said the council plans to continue using City Attorney Patrick Lyp, who's appointed by the mayor, but wants to appropriate $50,000 to hire a separate attorney, as needed. "I hope it's not necessary to spend a dime of this appropriation, and the spirit that I'm beginning to see with bipartisanship and a warm and fuzzy kumbaya going on, it very well might be that we can actually achieve our objectives," Cotton said.

The council has already apparently found someone they'd like to hire: Greg Sobkowski with the law firm Hodges and Davis, the same firm where council member Emilie Hunt used to work. "I don't have any financial interest in Hodges and Davis. I don't receive any payments from Hodges and Davis," Hunt said. "And I do think there are times when first-hand knowledge of professional services can be good, and this is one of them."

The other $100,000 being requested has less of a specific purpose, but Cotton said he'd like a consultant to study how the city's TIF districts impact the community's affordability. "One of the biggest critiques of a redevelopment commission is that it's only used on one side of the market and that there's a reciprocal impact on residents who aren't, you know, in a situation where they meet some of the recruitment standards from Illinois," Cotton said.

Cotton pointed to the use of TIF money for the Lincoln Highway Parking Garage, which supports the downtown Linc apartment complex. Hiring an attorney would require approval from the majority of the city council. Hiring other consultants would also require the approval of the board of works.

But the two Republican members say they were left out of these discussions. Peter Anderson criticized his Democratic colleagues for a lack of transparency.

"This ordinance has exactly four words on a piece of paper with zero description of what these funds would be used for," Anderson said.

Democrat Diana Reed also worried about appropriating money without a specific plan for how to spend it. "I guess I'm looking at the optics of it for our community members, as well," Reed said. "And so then while we're just setting aside these moneys for in the event that we need them, I guess I really am looking at more as, 'What is the need?'"

The appropriation ordinance was approved on first reading, by a party-line vote of five-to-two. A public hearing will be held next Monday, before council members make a final decision.