OTTUMWA — A closed session will lead off Tuesday’s city council meeting, as the members discuss legal strategy for an ongoing lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Mark Milligan, a former police officer. Milligan had sought records from the city’s RedSpeed camera car as part of a suit against Police Chief Tom McAndrew. The city has refused to release the records.
While the city cited state and federal laws when the case went before the district court, the judge rejected those arguments. He ruled there was no justification for the city’s claim the records are not public. The city has appealed.
Discussion of legal strategy is one of the clearest exemptions to the state’s open meetings law. Forcing government bodies to discuss strategy with their attorneys in open session would conflict with the principle of attorney-client privacy and potentially put taxpayers at a disadvantage in court.
Taxpayer funds are more an issue in this case than most. If the city loses in court it could be ordered to cover Milligan’s attorney fees.
While that issue could cost the city, another big ticket item on the agenda means receiving a considerable sum. The council is poised to accept a $400,000 grant from the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation to help with removal of dilapidated housing.
The city’s struggles with placarded and vacant housing has been an issue for years, but received renewed attention last year as the city’s list approached 150 properties. The Legacy grant covers $100,000 per year for four years.
The agreement between Legacy and the city says the money “shall be used specifically to reduce the inventory of placarded or dilapidated homes in Ottumwa.”
Terms of the grant mean much more is being committed to the work. The Legacy funds are contingent on the city’s commitment of $655,000 over the next five years for the work. That means more than $1 million will have been spent on removal of placarded houses through 2023.
The council meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.