By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS — Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Muriel Hughes ruled that Mayor Daniel Paletko must sign a retainer agreement with the law firm of Ottenwess, Taweel & Schenk, PLC as approved by the city council.
The issue before the court was whether the council met all four requirements needed to order a writ of mandamus against Paletko. The ruling stated that the court is not making its decision on the merits of the particular cause behind the council’s attempt to conduct a financial review.
“The council has shown that it had a clear legal right to performance by the mayor to sign the revised retainer agreement, and it has also shown that the mayor had a clear legal duty to
perform the act requested to sign the revised retainer agreement,” Hughes wrote. “Furthermore, once the mayoral veto of the July 24 resolution was overridden, the act of signing the revised retainer agreement was no longer discretionary and became a ministerial act.
“Finally, there is no other adequate legal or equitable remedy to hire a law firm as special legal counsel for a special matter outside the parameters of Section 5.13(j). Accordingly, the court grants the city council’s motion for writ of mandamus.”
Also, the ruling denied the council’s request of costs and attorney fees in its motion for writ of mandamus because it failed to articulate a legal basis in support of such requests.
During a July 24 special meeting the council voted 5-2 on the resolution for a revised retainer agreement and to file an appeal against Hughes’ July 17 opinion. Councilmen Dave Abdallah and Robert Constan were opposed.
The resolution authorized the retention of Ottenwess, Taweel & Schenk, PLC “as special legal counsel of counsel to the corporation counsel and to authorize the firm to file actions necessary and retainer agreement.”
In the July 17 opinion, Hughes ruled that Paletko was not required to sign the contract authorizing Ottenwess, Taweel & Schenk, PLC to find an audit firm to complete a forensic audit. Hughes ruled that the council does not have the authority to hire an outside law firm when Miotke is employed by he city to provide legal assistance.
The first denial by Hughes came on May 7 when she ruled that Councilwoman Denise Malinowski-Maxwell could not sue Paletko on behalf of the entire council and that a vote to approve the lawsuit would have to take place first.
The council voted 4-2 May 9 to file a complaint against Paletko after he refused to sign a contract approved by the council to conduct a forensic audit.
Abdallah and Constan opposed while Councilman Ray Muscat abstained.
“We appreciate the judge’s decision on this issue,” Malinowski-Maxwell said in a press release.” I am confident this will finally pave the way for us to conduct the full forensic audit of the city’s finances, which will answer the questions we have regarding both past and present spending procedures. Our intent as council members is to serve in the best interests of our residents — and this judgement will allow us to do just that.”
Attorney John Knappmann, who is representing Paletko in the case, and said he is not commenting on the cause until the mayor has made a decision on an appeal. Paletko did not comment on the lawsuit, but is looking at his options until he makes a decision as early as next week.
During the retainer agreement process, Paketo vetoed motions by the city council relating to the resolution.
“I am vetoing it because it is a political witch hun that will waste city money and violate the law,” he said in a letter. “If the city council majority overrides my veto, I fully intend to exercise every legal option available to me. I refuse to give into this misguided and illegal, political witch hunt.”
Initially, the council voted Feb. 26 on a resolution to seek a forensic audit to provide an explanation for almost $1.4 million missing from the city’s Public, Educational and Governmental fund. The city council also passed the law firm appointment resolution at a March 26 meeting with a 5-2 vote, with Abdallah and Constan against.
“The financial review was proposed and approved by the council in order to help address questions regarding a number of city expenditures, including spending on retiree health care, spending on city-owned vehicles and charges from the city’s water fund, among other things,” the news release read.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])