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Valparaiso Council appropriates $150,000 in case it wants to hire attorney, other consultants

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The Valparaiso City Council now has $150,000 available to hire its own attorney and other consultants. An ordinance appropriating that money out of cigarette tax revenues was approved Monday in a party-line vote.

During a public hearing, resident Russ Schaade argued that money could be better spent on another school resource officer. "When I'm going to my son's school and I don't see a safe environment for him and then I hear about stuff like this, it's infuriating and it makes me feel like I didn't move far enough away from Chicago," Schaade told council members.

But resident Scott Sederstrom felt that funding was necessary to restore the proper balance between branches of city government. "We can't expect the interest of the council and the mayor's office to be in alignment all of the time, and as an equal branch of government, council needs to be able to act independently, which requires funding," Sederstrom said.

Hiring any outside consultants would still require the approval of the city council, and in some cases, the city's board of works. Still, City Attorney Patrick Lyp noted that professional services are a bit more subjective than public works projects.

"There's no formal requirement for a [request for proposals] or no formal requirement for receiving sealed bids," Lyp explained. "That being said, it's always -- there is some value to having that out there."

The council has already expressed interest in using one of its members' former colleague as its attorney, as needed.

Some residents also supported the idea of using some of the money to study the impact of the city's TIF districts. Dan Biemer felt having an independent assessment could go a long way in building public trust.

"Since the Linc project was unveiled, the reactions that I've encountered inside and outside of town have been overwhelmingly that that style of project is the opposite of what makes downtown appealing and desirable," Biemer told council members.

Council President Robert Cotton said TIF districts are a vital tool, but he wants to make sure the redevelopment commission is using them in the most ethical way. "In the game of Monopoly, it's virtually over if the only thing that's developed is Boardwalk and Park Place, and if in fact our incentives are focused only on the higher end of things, there has to be some consequence to everything else," Cotton said.

He added that the council may also look at hiring a consultant to update the city code.

Peter Anderson was one of the two council members voting against the ordinance. He didn't like the idea of hiring a consultant to study the redevelopment commission.

"There's a possibility to set a dangerous precedent of the city council — I don't want to say — meddling in whatever city department they possibly could have any kind of beef with," Anderson said.

Council members did amend the ordinance to clarify that up to $50,000 can be used for attorney fees, while the other $100,000 could be used for other consultants. Still, Cotton stressed that he hoped the council wouldn't have to spend any of it.