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Council to explore forced records release

By Staff | Apr 24, 2010

City council will try to discover if they have the power to subpoena documents from MWH, the city’s utility contractor, which has refused to turn over the information for a council-ordered audit.
Council will discuss the possibility on Monday, and what to do next if their subpoena powers do not extend to private corporations.
Council member Pete Brandt said in a memo dated April 20 that council must use all the tools in its possession to retrieve documents Michael Kessler , the selected auditor, needs to do his job.
“If we are unwilling to use our subpoena powers, if necessary, or chicken out about going to court if MWH refuses to honor a subpoena, then I believe we should back out of the audit!” Brandt wrote. “My reason for wanting this brought forward is so we can have an up or down vote on this issue.”
Mayor John Sullivan said he was going to ask council to approve moving forward with instructing the city attorney to subpoena the records.
Sullivan did not speculate on what the next step would be if a subpoena is not an option.
“What we’re trying to do is get circuit court to issue an subpoena to get those records,” Sullivan said.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail said he would not support the subpoena, and fears that if the request turns to litigation, the city would find itself facing a formidable legal team from MWH.
“If we can’t compel MWH to reproduce those documents, where do we go from here?” McGrail asked. “If we make accusations against a multi-billion dollar corporation and they have to defend themselves … their legal department is more wellfunded than ours.”
Councilmember Erick Kuehn thinks the opposite is necessary, and that the city needs to find closure on an issue that’s been ongoing for five years.
Doing so, he said, will also help to clear the air.
“I think we need to do whatever we need to do,” Kuehn said. “We need closure. It’s a dark cloud that’s hanging over our heads. Let’s bring everything out in the open.”
Councilmember Marty McClain said that if the city were to pursue litigation, which he would not support, the cost would far outweigh the “not to exceed amount” of $60,000 council approved to restart the audit.
Approving the $60,000, he said, has already cost the city more money than it’s worth.
“We have already spent more money than we would ever recover,” McClain said.
Brandt could not be reached for comment.