Lawsuit hamstrings engineer’s presentation to council

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 14, 2017

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — While residents have filed suit against the city to recoup costs they incurred when sewage backed up into their basements, the city is working with Anderson, Eckstein and Westrick to get to the bottom of the problem and find a solution.

But while the city was scheduled to receive an update on the work that has been done to date, including the televised investigation of about 76 percent of the planned 62,000 feet of sewer lines, that update was halted due to concerns that it could provide fodder for plaintiffs’ attorneys in a pending lawsuit.

“What is said to council and what council says in public may be used ... as evidence,” said City Attorney Robert Ihrie at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting, where both the presentation and the lawsuit were on the agenda. “I want to caution council discussing in, what I suspect is, in some detail issues that are the subject matter of pending litigation. 

“I think there is some danger to that.”

Council members were angered by the fact that the potential conflict was only being brought before them in the middle of the presentation by AEW, as both the presentation and the receipt of the lawsuit were on the published agenda.

“The residents have a right to know what’s going on in the city, but we are being sued,” said Councilman Pete Rubino. “Why wasn’t this taken care of and done ahead of time?”

Mayor Kip Walby said that he asked AEW to come to the meeting, not realizing that it could impact the pending litigation.

Ihrie said that, while there is a rule of evidence that indicates that what a defendant does to correct a situation cannot be used against them, typically in court, but since he didn’t know exactly what AEW was going to include in the presentation, he wanted to speak with the engineers before allowing it to proceed.

“This is a shame,” said Councilwoman Candice Rusie. “Administration had the presentation because we were emailed it last week. They knew that a class-action (lawsuit) was on the agenda.

“The fact that the administration didn’t connect the dots until the middle of the meeting ... I think this looks really sloppy. This wasn’t a surprise.”

Walby said that it was simply a mistake that both the presentation and the lawsuit ended up on the agenda without Ihrie having advance notice regarding the contents of the basement backup presentation.

City Council voted 5-1, with Councilman Ron Frederick excused absent and Rusie opposed, to table the presentation to the Feb. 21 meeting so that Ihrie would have time to meet with AEW and hear the contents of the presentation.

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