Jan. 9 2018 08:34 AM

Lansing city attorney exit took 70 hours to negotiate

    Former Mayor of Lansing Virg Bernero and former Lansing City Attorney Janene McIntyre


    MONDAY, Jan.9 — Newly released and unredacted billing documents regarding the still unexplained exit and $160,663 payout to former Lansing City Attorney Janene McIntyre reveal lawyers worked for two months on hammering out the final separation agreement.

    Former Mayor Virg Bernero hired the Dykema Gossett law firm on Jan. 7, 2016, the same day McIntyre sought information on applying for and receiving provisional Family Medical Leave Act time off.

    The city did not reveal that it had retained outside counsel to negotiate with McIntyre until well after it formally announced on Feb. 19 that she he was on leave. The hiring of outside counsel was revealed in March through Michigan Freedom of Information Act requests.

    It took attorneys 70 hours to negotiate the agreement, according to the newly released documents that hint at a contentious struggle to hammer out a separation deal. Among the revelations in the latest FOIA-prompted release are:

    Bills indicating at least eight revisions for the separation agreement

    Exacting negotiations over McIntyre’s unilateral changes to a draft of the agreement

    At least five phone calls, three negotiation sessions and six written communications with Jamie White, McIntyre’s attorney

    At least a dozen phone communications with officials in the Mayor’s Office, including Bernero, Chief of Staff Randy Hannan, and Chief Operating Officer Chad Gamble

    Two different billing entries for research on the City Charter, and just over a dozen hours researching mayoral authority in the City of Lansing

    The final billing for service, dated March 10, was to research issues related to “disclosure of private information” and potential legal ramifications.

    The records reveal four attorneys worked on the matter, costing the city $19,263 between for Jan. 7 and March 10.

    After a billing entry for “review” of “McIntyre’s unilateral changes to separation agreement,” on Feb. 13, there was a flurry of phone calls that resulted the entrance into the case by Andrew Abood. Abood, owner of the Abood Law Firm, and the brother of Joseph Abood, who was the acting city attorney at the time. It is unclear whether Andrew Abood was paid for his services.

    Two sources, including current City Attorney Jim Smiertka, confirmed Abood acted as a mediator in the dispute.

    The release of the unredacted documents sheds light on the contentious nature of the negotiations involved in McIntyre’s exit from city employment, but do not provide anymore indication as to why she left in the first place. Her exit has been a controversy since it happened two years ago, but its been shrouded in mystery.

    The separation agreement reached between Bernero and McIntyre included a $10,000 fine if either party disparaged the other.

    For his part, Bernero has consistently declined to comment on why McIntyre left, and has justified paying her nearly $80,000 more than her contract required in order “grease the skids.” He also called the payment a “bonus.”

    The documents had been concealed from public view by the Bernero administration for nearly two years. In December, Lansing City Councilwoman Patricia Spitzley, acting in her role as president of the City Council, reversed a determination by the City Attorney’s Office to redact portions of the bills before releasing them under FOIA.

    Spitzley ordered the bills released unredacted, rejecting Bernero’s assertion that the documents were covered by attorney client privilege. Despite the council directive, the former mayor refused the order.

    But new Mayor Andy Schor decided late last week to release the documents. “I chose not to assert that privilege in this instance,” Schor said Monday night.

    Brian Jackson, the new 4th Ward Councilman and an attorney, said after briefly reviewing the documents Monday night that a “reasonable minds could disagree” on whether the documents contained attorney client privileged information. He noted that the billing referred to communications in some instances, which could be cited as privileged.