Attorney to represent city in its legal dealings in suit brought by the Hannibal Board of Public Works over chloramine ordinance

An attorney from Mexico, Mo., will represent the city of Hannibal in the legal action being brought against the city by the Hannibal Board of Public Works (HBPW) over the chloramine ordinance.

On a vote of 7-0 the City Council on Tuesday night, Aug. 1, authorized the mayor to sign an “engagement letter” with Louis Leonatti of the firm Leonatti & Baker to serve as the city’s special counsel in the chloramine matter.

“I’ve had minimal interaction with Mr. Leonatti over the years, but I have personally known him for 25 years,” wrote City Manager Jeff LaGarce in a memo to the Council. “He served as Mexico’s city attorney when I worked there in the early 1990s, and he remains Mexico’s city attorney today. Mr. Leonatti is a fine attorney and has many years of experience, municipal and otherwise.”

According to the law firm’s website — www.leonatti-baker.com — one of Leonatti’s areas of practice is municipal law.

Leonatti is no stranger to Hannibal. In June 2004, Leonatti was hired by the city of Hannibal to represent it in a counter claim filed by the individual who was leasing the former federal building on Broadway. At the time, then-City Manager Andy Morris said Leonatti was selected because of his understanding of contract law.

In 2000, Leonatti successfully represented Rensselaer, located just west of Hannibal off of Route H, in its decade-long fight to prevent Browning Ferris Corp. from opening a landfill on property near the small Ralls County community.

LaGarce explained the city’s perspective regarding the legal matter that is essentially pitting the HBPW against the city.

“While the suit understandably seeks injunctive relief from the 90-day deadline for removing ammonia from drinking water, it also seeks to set aside the April 4 referendum results on same,” he said. “Specifically, BPW’s claim involves whether this particular initiative petition enters into areas legally off limits from initiative petitions, specifically, ‘the budget or capital program or any ordinance relating to appropriation of money.’

“I believe I speak for the entire elected body when I state the 90-day provision cannot be met without simultaneous violation of federal and state environmental law, and must therefore be extended to some reasonable, yet diligent period. But we are opposed to the challenge being brought against the April 4 referendum itself, and must oppose this in court.”

The city needed to hire outside counsel because it could not utilize the city attorney.

“City Attorney James Lemon serves as legal counsel to both the city and BPW,” said LaGarce. “As such, it would be difficult for Attorney Lemon to represent the city in this case.”

Lack of outside counsel prompted the City Council to pass on going into a joint closed session meeting with the HBPW Board, which the utility’s Board had requested, on July 6. Late on July 6 the HBPW, citing a potential conflict of interest, objected to Lemon representing the city during that day’s scheduled closed session. Citing the lack of time to secure outside counsel that day, the Council instead declined to meet in closed session.

The HBPW’s special attorney is Robert Brundage of Newman, Comley and Ruth in Jefferson City.

Both attorneys are expected to be on hand at a hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 8, at the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal. The hearing, which is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m., will focus on the HBPW’s request for a temporary restraining order against the implementation of Hannibal Ordinance 4,751, or the chloramine ordinance.

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