OT holds special meeting, accepts resignation of Freel as attorney – Iosco County News Herald

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Sunshine and clouds mixed. High 27F. Winds SW at 15 to 25 mph..
Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low around 20F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph.
Updated: January 3, 2022 @ 2:27 pm

OSCODA – Given the items listed on the agenda, “Contract discussion regarding township attorney” and “Placeholder for interim attorney appointment” it seemed a foregone conclusion that Tim Freel would be removed as Oscoda township’s attorney. 
The agenda for the special meeting on Tues. Dec. 21, was posted on Dec. 14. Freel tendered his resignation on Dec. 15. During the special meeting, the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees unanimously voted to accept Freel’s resignation. Supervisor Ann Richards made the motion with support by Treasurer Jaimie McGuire. 
Freel, whose law office is located in East Tawas, had been hired at a rate of $165 per hour, a rate that was $10 lower per hour than he asked for, in April 2021. Freel responded to a request for proposals (RFP) for legal services the township issued after the resignation of Robert Eppert, who had been serving as the township’s attorney since 2013. 
According to Clerk Josh Sutton, problems began with Freel as early as June and were brought to Freel’s attention at that time. However, Sutton did not respond to an e-mail or phone call from the Oscoda Press asking for details of what the problems were.
Sutton and Freel got into an argument at the Dec. 13 regular board meeting with Freel saying he felt blind-sided since issues had not been brought to his attention prior to the meeting. At the same meeting Freel was questioned by Trustee Steve Wusterbarth about a charge on his invoice. Trustee Tim Cummings also criticized Freel’s work on the contracts with MiCTV and the Shoreline Theater. Ultimately, during the meeting Sutton made a motion to remove Freel as the attorney. The motion failed in a vote of 3 to 4. 
As previously reported, Freel was one of two firms that responded to the RFP earlier this year. In a memo to the board former Superintendent Michael Mitchell had recommended that the board hire White, Wojda and Curtis, an Alpena based firm, that had been serving as legal counsel since January. At the April 12 meeting Mitchell said he changed his mind and that he thought the township should do a more thorough search. Instead in a vote of 5 to 2, with Richards and McGuire voting no, the board decided to hire Freel. Richards said that she thought the board should interview Freel before hiring him. 
The scope of work for the township attorney includes providing legal advice, attending meetings as requested and reviewing documents, among other duties. 
According to McGuire, since April 2021, Freel has provided the township with approximately 300 hours of legal services and has been involved in the review of purchase agreements, contracts, Freedom of Information requests and civil infractions. He has addressed issues involving the Economic Improvement Committee, Huron Shores Regional Utility Authority (HSRUA), Furtaw Field, Aune Medical Center and the marijuana facilities. 
As previously reported, Freel was asked by Wusterbarth to investigate an allegation of harassment in May. At that meeting Wusterbarth said that the issue involved township administration and elected officials. 
Freel also serves as the attorney for the City of East Tawas and for Alabaster, Baldwin and Plainfield townships. At their Sept. 27 meeting the board of trustees voted to hire additional legal support for litigation so that Freel could focus on operational needs.  
The Oscoda Press reached out to Freel prior to the special meeting. Through his legal assistant he stated that he would not be attending the special meeting and that he had no comment at this time.
The trustees had originally planned to go into closed session during the special meeting to discuss “privileged attorney/client communication regarding personnel matters”. However, Wusterbarth pointed out that they could not go into closed session without legal counsel present. The board then voted to postpone going into closed session. 
McGuire added waiving confidentiality on Eppert’s resignation letter to the agenda because she said it applies to the discussion regarding Freel.  
Trustee Jeremy Spencer moved to approve the agenda with changes, Trustee Bill Palmer provided support and the board approved it unanimously. 
A few minutes prior to the meeting, Superintendent Tammy Kline sent information to the trustees about Attorney Lisa Hamameh who has a law office in Farmington Hills. At the meeting, Kline recommended that Hamameh serve as the interim township attorney. According to Kline, Hamameh had tried to get a copy of the RFP when it was issued in the spring, however, she did not receive it until two days before it was due and did not submit a proposal. 
Hamameh’s practice areas include general municipal law, prosecutions and ordinance enforcement, real estate and construction and land use and zoning. She graduated from Wayne State University’s Law School and has been licensed as an attorney since 2000. In 2011 and 2012 she was recognized as a “Rising Star” and from 2013-2021 she was recognized as a “Super Lawyer” for government, cities and municipalities. Hamameh was also selected for “Best Lawyers in America” in municipal law from 2016-2022.  
“At least on paper, with municipal law being one of her specialties, and she presents at MTA (Michigan Townships Association) every year,” Kline said. Kline reported that Hamameh indicated that she is willing and able to attend meetings and court proceedings. Her rate is $170 per hour, $5 more than what Freel was being paid.
“She has presented several years at the MTA Conference. I believe I attended one of her sessions in 2017. As I recall it was an excellent presentation,” said Palmer. 
McGuire asked if Hamameh would be able to go to court dates for property cleanup. She also asked if there will be travel expenses. “Mr. Freel was not doing most court dates,” Kline responded.  “I don’t see that as being a lot,” Kline added. 
“We need someone, we are exhausting our local resources,” said Richards. 
A motion was made by Wusterbarth, with support by Sutton to contract with Lisa Hamameh. The board approved unanimously. 
McGuire made a motion to waive confidentiality for the resignation letter from Eppert. “We’ve gone through three attorneys in the last year,” said McGuire. She said she felt that the public should be aware of the information in the letters of resignation. 
“A lot of Eppert’s letter was sour grapes,” said Trustee Tim Cummings. “What’s the motivation to share these documents with the public?” he added.  
“I think you can pick and choose some of the things that would be helpful for the board to work on,” responded McGuire.
Richards made a motion to ask the superintendent to talk to the interim attorney to remove client confidentiality from Eppert’s letter. McGuire provided support. The motion was unanimously approved. 
In other business the board took the following actions:
• In a vote of 5 to 2, approved payment to MiCTV in the amount of $25,300. McGuire expressed concern with the pre-payment of the contract since there is no out clause. “We did sign a contract that we are going to do it. We are pre-paying for a service, we’ve never pre-paid for a service a year in advance”, added Richards. Discussion centered around the fact that taxpayer money was being spent. “Should we make a motion to re-negotiate the contract?” McGuire asked. “I don’t think MiCTV has a problem with tightening up the contract,” said Trustee Jeremy Spencer. Motion by  Palmer, support by Cummings. Richards reminded the board that she was not in favor of moving the meetings to the Shoreline Theater. McGuire and Richards both voted no. Payment was due 12/21/21.
• Unanimously approved having the interim attorney review the MiCTV contract. Motion by Richards, support by Cummings.
Find all the local deals this Black Friday with the Iosco County New-Herald and Oscoda Press Black Friday Holiday Guide 2021!
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