At the end of Thursday night’s Hannibal City Council agenda was scheduled a closed session to consider legal actions. And while City Attorney James Lemon was in attendance at the rescheduled meeting, the Council cited a lack of legal representation as its reason for choosing not to meet behind closed doors with the Hannibal Board of Public Works Board.

At the end of Thursday night’s Hannibal City Council agenda was scheduled a closed session to consider legal actions. And while City Attorney James Lemon was in attendance at the rescheduled meeting, the Council cited a lack of legal representation as its reason for choosing not to meet behind closed doors with the Hannibal Board of Public Works Board.

Following the meeting Mayor James Hark explained why the Council had nixed the planned closed-session gathering.

“We were scheduled to go into closed session. The Board of Public Works had requested a closed session. Late this afternoon (Thursday) they found that the city attorney (Lemon) could possibly have a conflict as he has been the attorney for the Board of Public Works as well as the Council,” he said. “The actual act of going into closed session without legal counsel I’m not comfortable with. I think it’s not a wise move for anyone to enter any type of litigation or discuss potential litigation without having legal counsel. I presented that case to the rest of the Council and they agreed that if we’re going to have any type of discussions with potential litigations that we should have our attorney as well. It’s not that I feel there is an adversarial environment, but the best way to keep things in check is make sure we’re all operating on legal ground.”

Although the nature of the closed session isn’t known — and is protected by a 72-hour window by the Missouri Sunshine Law — a potential conflict of interest for Lemon indicates the nature is one with which Board of Public Works and City Council members are likely familiar.

On Friday, Lemon offered his take on Thursday’s developments.

“Yesterday (Thursday) afternoon, Bob (Stevenson, general manager of the HBPW) called me and said they had met with their lawyer who expressed concern that I should not represent the city in the closed session because I had prior knowledge of the subject matter,” he said. “I was not provided with an agenda for the closed session so I have no idea what the (HBPW) Board was planning to say or present, so I am not able to say definitively whether there was an actual conflict or not. However, in a situation where the former client claims I have prior knowledge which could prejudice them, the safe bet is to advise your other client to seek other legal counsel. It avoids a lot of potential hassle on down the road if things go south. I immediately notified the mayor, but unfortunately, it was too late in the day for them to seek another lawyer.”

Like Lemon, Hark wasn’t given a preview of what might have awaited the Council in the closed session with the BPW.

“I had no idea what was coming up in closed session. I wasn’t made aware of what it was to be,” said the mayor. “It was just posted as potential litigation and that’s what we were going into closed session to discuss. But without an attorney to represent us I don’t feel I can make a good judgement on behalf of the city or the citizens that I serve.”

Hark indicated he would be working with Lemon and City Manager Jeff LaGarce in securing a “replacement counsel.”

“I will be happy to do whatever they want me to do in that regard,” said Lemon.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com