The Maplewood city council is set to consider placing four items on the ballot in April having to do with the mayor (and not city manager) appointing the city attorney, separating the office of the city attorney from the prosecuting attorney, creating a new office of defense attorney, and to provide for a procedure to remove members of the department of law.
The ordinances were on the agenda for the November 14 meeting but Mayor Nikylan Knapper struck them from the agenda to reconsider the ballot wording. Knapper this week explained (by email) the purposes of the ballot issues. The mayor’s comments below are in bold.
Q: Why should the mayor and not the city manager appoint the city attorney?
A: Council believes that the city attorney should be determined by Council because the attorney is an employee of Council like the city manager. Further, the city attorney can only be hired or fired by the Council. The city manager cannot hire the city attorney without the consent of Council and the city manager cannot fire the city attorney; only the Council can terminate the city attorney’s employment.
Council serves as the community’s voice as its Council members are elected by the people of Maplewood; The city manager is not. Due to this and the explanation provide above, Council would like to see the appointment of the city attorney be the same as the appointment process for the Municipal Judge and appointments to Boards and Commissions.
Q: Why is the city attorney and prosecuting attorney offices being separated, with the prosecuting attorney being appointed by the mayor?
A: A conflict of interest can occur with the city attorney also serving as a prosecuting attorney. Because of this, Council would like to see the position separated so a conflict of interest cannot arise.
Additionally, as previously explained for the position of city attorney, Council would like to ensure that the voice of the community, not solely the city manager, is heard when appointing and approving the city prosecutor. The appointment of the city prosecutor by the mayor with the approval of Council will ensure the community’s voice is a part of the hiring process, as well as follow the same process for the Municipal Judge appointment and appointments to Boards and Commissions.
Q: Why create a new office of defense attorney?
A: The defense attorney position is being proposed by Council to assist individuals that have tickets for driving without a license, driving with a revoked license, driving with a suspended license, driving with expired tags, and driving without insurance. These aforelisted infractions can cause someone that is financially struggling to face more financial struggles, which could start or keep someone in a cycle of poverty.
Council would like to ensure that persons with infractions such as these receive defense and legal advice that will help them to get on a path of getting their driver’s licenses and not being in debt because they cannot legally drive to work or the fines from such infractions have become insurmountable.
The defense attorney scope of work is limited to those infractions listed above and there will be no increase to the City’s budget with the creation of this new position. Should the Maplewood community support this amendment, our municipality would be the first in the region to have such a position in its municipal court.
Q: Why does the city need a procedure to remove a member of the department of law?
A: Currently, the city’s charter does not have such a procedure. That is why Council seeks to include it. Council believes it is prudent to have a procedure in place to remove someone from a position.
Mayor Knapper also said that the process to locate a new city manager is underway. The previous one left the city in September, and Maplewood Police Chief Matt Nighbor was named interim city manager.
A: There is a process underway to hire a new city manager and it began on October 14, 2023. Because the hiring process is a personnel matter, discussions regarding the process and potential interview candidates took place during closed sessions. The Council decided to look locally before engaging in a national search. From our past experience, it was expensive ($20K+), and it took quite a while. One of the requirements of a City Manager is that you have to live in the City of Maplewood, per our charter and state statute. We felt it made sense to start looking locally before attempting a national search. It was not posted locally, but up to the Council to come up with candidates, which there were 3. One declined because of the residence requirement, and we interviewed 2 very capable candidates.