By Agrippina Fadel
“Our city is screwed,” said Mayor Michelle Gomez after the vote that fired City Attorney John Herin and reinstated Hans Ottinot in his place.
The motion, proposed by newly appointed Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton, was supported by freshly elected commissioners Morey Wright and Kicia Daniel, giving Bolton the three votes he needed to pass it.
The promise of unity and working for the good of the city that the commissioners talked about only weeks ago seems to be forgotten unless the unity they meant is agreeing with Bolton’s agenda – no matter where it may take the city.
Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Gomez suggested sending out letters of interest for legal services to give different firms a chance to offer the city their bids. Still, Bolton refused to discuss the item and instead championed his motion.
Bolton did not provide any backup information for his item nor explain his desire to hire a new law firm ahead of time. All the commissioners got was the agenda item title and a long speech from Bolton about how great of a firm the Ottinot Law is.
From January to May 2021, the firm served the city, with Hans Ottinot billing Tamarac taxpayers $195,000.55 for three months of legal work during his tenure.
He was fired on May 12, and John Herin of Fox Rothschild took over as the city attorney.
Bolton called it a “mistake that needs to be corrected” because Ottinot Law, in his opinion, provided the city with “top-notch legal services.”
“This law firm is what the city needs to move forward,” he said, adding that he did not provide any backup information because “the city knows who Ottinot Law is.”
Bolton told Herin he believes him to be an excellent attorney and “very competent.”
“This has nothing to do with you, but this is a new commission, and I believe the time has come for strong leadership in the city,” he added.
Bolton’s comments and attitude toward the lawyers representing the city in the past were allegedly the reason behind two attorneys quitting – Sam Goren in 2020 and Max Lohman in July 2022.
Commissioner Elvin Villalobos opposed the discussion of an agenda item without any backup information, saying the commissioners cannot fact-check Bolton’s statements, and shared his reservations about bringing back Ottinot.
“It was a complete disaster [when he served the city]. Every person employed by the city can attest to how much of a mess Ottinot was because he was manipulated by Bolton and Mike Gelin,” said Villalobos, adding that Bolton shared with him that former Vice Mayor Gelin even “received funds on the backend” from Ottinot.
“We are being pushed by one [commissioner] to make a decision that will affect every single person in the room, everything we do, and every procedure we have. It is unacceptable,” said Villalobos.
Bolton said he asked the staff for the list of firms who applied last time the city hired an attorney and shared that information with other commissioners in an email the night before the meeting. Ottinot’s information was included.
Mayor Gomez said the email did not mention its connection to the item in question. All the information should have been included in the commission’s packets six days before the meeting to give everyone time to read the materials.
“This is highly inappropriate and improper. It is an attempt of one person on the commission to try and sandbag our city attorney and the process of how they are hired,” Gomez said, adding that Bolton did not give his colleagues a chance to do any due diligence and research.
She called for a fair and competent hiring process and reminded the commission that their actions affect the city, how it operates and is perceived, and whether the people would want to do business in Tamarac.
“It feels like we are being strongarmed – “you will hire that firm, and they will be here tomorrow at noon.” Did [Bolton] have a conversation with the firm? What did he promise them? Does Mr. Ottinot want the job? We don’t have any of those answers,” she said.
“I would like to believe this commission will not fall into that trap,” Gomez added.
Commissioner Daniel’s reasoning for her yes vote was that since Ottinot worked for the city in the past, she considered that enough backup information. Besides, as a resident at the time, she “thought the firm was doing a good job and was wrongfully fired.”
“And that’s part of the problem and why they are no longer here,” Gomez answered, adding that Daniel does not have a full background of the story, which makes it even more important that she has all the facts and does her research before voting.
“I don’t like the idea that one person on this dais is going to circumvent everybody’s ability and process to have a fair and adequate discussion regarding whether or not we will go out for legal services,” Gomez added.
Bolton asked his colleagues to “go on a limb” with him and hire Ottinot and promised to be “the first one to fire the firm” in a couple of months if the commission was “not in agreement with his style.”
Gomez reminded her colleagues that hiring and firing city attorneys is difficult and expensive, making it hard for the staff to transition. “To continue to transfer legal work is inefficient and costs taxpayers a lot of money,” she added.
After the 3-2 vote about the city attorney, Gomez said she was highly disappointed in the commission.
“All of the false promises to work together for the betterment of this city have been just that — hot air. [I see] failure to stand on your own two feet, and allowing to be dictated without having any full idea of the protocols and processes of the city. It is terribly distressing,” she added.
In the second part of his item, Bolton suggested appointing current Assistant City Manager Levent Sucuoglu as city manager when Kathleen Gunn’s contract expires on March 3.
Gunn handed in her resignation notice in November.
Gomez said that while she supports the succession plan, she sees Bolton’s lack of supporting documents for the item as lying. “This is not a proper mechanism. There should be a discussion versus somebody acting like this city is his dictatorship,” she added.
The commission voted unanimously to appoint Levent Sucuoglu as the new city manager and will discuss his contract at the next meeting in January.
Ottinot took over as city attorney on Thursday.
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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