With chloramine deadline approaching, legal action remains possible.

In the frigid days of winter it is not uncommon to find Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) personnel helping the city by plowing snow-packed streets. But in the heat of summer the two municipal partners may wind up as courtroom adversaries since the HBPW could possibly wind up suing the city of Hannibal.

Suggesting this is a possibility is City Attorney James Lemon, who typically offers legal guidance to both the HBPW and city, but will be on the sidelines if (when?) the legal friction heats up.

The seeds of dispute can be traced back to earlier this year, shortly after Proposition 1, requiring the use of chloramines - a mixture of chlorine and ammonia - in the city's water disinfection process be halted within 90 days.

“The board requested that DNR (Department of Natural Resources) allow them to stop feeding chloramines because of the ordinance. DNR declined. As a result, the Board (of Public Works) is not able to comply with the timeline set in the ordinance without violating a directive of DNR. This puts them subject to two legal authorities, who are in disagreement,” explained Lemon. “My legal advice was to file a petition for a declaratory judgment in the circuit court, asking the court to tell them who to obey, and to issue orders to the losing party that they were not to enforce against the city. My advice to the city was that the defendant on that suit should be DNR, and then also because the ordinance instructs Jeff (LaGarce) to fine the violating party, Jeff would have to be named also so he could be instructed not to enforce.”

The legal developments put Lemon in a position in which he could no longer represent both sides as far as chloramine compliance is concerned.

“I explained to the (HBPW) Board and Jeff that I could not represent the Board and to all intents and purposes sue Jeff, unless both parties acknowledged the potential conflict and waived it in writing. The Board agreed to waive, Jeff did not. As a result, I told the Board I could not represent them on the issue and they hired outside counsel,” said the city attorney.

When the HBPW Board's outside counsel, Robert Brundage, expressed concern regarding the possibility of Lemon representing the city in the City Council's (July 6) closed session because he had prior knowledge of the subject matter, he immediately notified the mayor to seek other legal counsel to advise the city in the special session. However, because it was too late in the day to find another lawyer, rather than meet with the HBPW Board in closed session without legal representation, the City Council passed on going behind closed doors.

Even though the HBPW Board took undisclosed action in its July 6 closed session, the need for the city to hire outside counsel may still exist, according to Lemon.

“At this point it would appear that outside counsel would need to be hired if the (HBPW) Board wants to meet with the Council in closed session and bring their lawyer,” he said. “However, if the Board sues the city, and/or Jeff in the declaratory judgment action, then that would also require outside counsel.”

While it may be surprising that the chloramine issue could wind up pitting the city and HBPW against one another, that the matter ends up in a courtroom is not unexpected. Citing the “unrealistic time line to stop using chloramines” that Proposition 1 contained, inlate February, Lemon was predicting that legal action would be required if the proposition was approved, which it was in early April.

According to Bob Stevenson, general manager of the HBPW, the deadline for compliance arrives in mid August.

 

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