May 25 2016 11:59 AM

Bernero rejects Council’s time limit on interim attorney appointment

Todd Heywood/City Pulse
When The Lansing City Council approved Mayor Virg Bernero's appointment of Joseph Abood as the interim city attorney on March 28, it did so for just two months.

But with the expiration date looming, Bernero has informed the Council that he intends to ignore the deadline.

“My administration will continue to recognize Mr. Abood as the city’s interim city attorney until such time as I refer his appointment to Council as permanent city attorney or appoint a different individual to this position,” Bernero wrote the council on Monday, “and I urge the City Council to do the same.”

Bernero said that the Council overstepped its authority when it limited the time of the appointment. “Although a time limit is part and parcel of an interim position, the City Council does not have the legal authority to establish such a limit,” he wrote.

Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, was present when the resolution was approved the Council. He did not object to the two-month time limit, video of the meetings available on the city’s website show. The resolution, including the two-month time limit, was approved by Abood himself.

“Randy was sitting right there through the whole discussion and after, and he never said anything. Exactly when did it become a problem?” asked Council President Judi Brown Clarke.

The mayor’s move comes as the Council and Bernero tangle over the departure of former City Attorney Janene McIntyre. Council wants an explanation of why she left — with a hefty $160,000 payout, plus a year’s worth of benefits, including health care. Bernero, for his part, says it’s a personnel matter. He also told WILS morning radio host Dave Akerly that he gave McIntyre an “$80,000 bonus,” on the way out the door. Brown Clarke has estimated that the McIntyre affair could cost the city more than $250,000 in payouts and legal expenses.

During the earlier fights between Bernero and the Council over the McIntyre events, Bernero has consistently said he retained sole authority for supervision of departmental heads, including the city attorney. But the city attorney reports to both the mayor and the Council.

“It seems whenever it is convenient for the mayor, the city attorney is an employee of both City Council and the mayor,” said Brown Clarke. “But whenever it’s inconvenient, then the city attorney is an employee of the mayor and the administration.”

Abood is also facing harsh criticism by the Council after a City Pulse report last week by City Council revealed significant ethical concerns. That report revealed that while maintaining a 50 percent interest in the Abood Law Firm since starting with the city of Lansing, he failed to file financial disclosure forms acknowledging the relationship, as required by the City’s ethics laws. In addition to that, the Abood Law Firm is one of 39 approved outside legal counsel firms for the city.

Abood has since told WLNS that he believes his brother, Andrew, will be asking the city to remove the Abood Law Firm from a list of approved outside legal firms.

Concerns were also raised about the employment of his daughter, Nicole Malson. Malson was hired by McIntyre as an administrative assistant to both McIntyre and Abood when he served as deputy city attorney. She has been reporting directly to him as interim city attorney. Abood told the Council in March that it was not an agreeable situation.

Hannan said last week the Bernero had given Abood to resolve the issue by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, the same day her nearly $55,000-a-year contract expires.