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Harrisburg city council votes out city attorney; brings on two new lawyers

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 5/1/2019 10:30 AM

HARRISBURG -- In a special city council meeting Tuesday morning, council members voted 3-2 to replace the current city attorney with two different attorneys.

On April 18, the first meeting of the new council since the election, council members voted against McPeek's appointment of Todd Bittle as the city attorney. Bittle has served as the city attorney for about 14 years, McPeek said.

At that meeting, council then attempted to vote in attorneys Kolby Smithpeters and Robert Wilson as city attorneys.

However, the language of the city's stipulation regarding the appointment meant that the decision was to be made by the mayor and approved by council.

McPeek then filed for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to make sure the council's selection for city attorneys could not be recognized.

In a hearing over the matter, Judge Todd Lambert said that as currently written, the choice was to be made by the mayor and approved by the council. However, he also said council was within its right to change the wording of the appointment, and on Tuesday, the council took that action.

McPeek and councilman Rupert Johnson voted against firing Bittle and hiring Smithpeters and Wilson, with councilmen Ron Morse, Raymond Gunning and Roger Angelly voting for the measure.

McPeek said he was disappointed with the council's actions, but that the city has to move forward.

"I appreciate Rupert voting with me on this. I think what this council did to Todd is awful. I have a great appreciation for the work he's done for me and the city for the last 13 or 14 years," McPeek said. "But, the city has to move forward and we all have to learn to work with what we have, and I think I can do that with Kolby."

McPeek said council members also voted to give raises to department supervisors.

The water and sewer superintendent, street and public improvement superintendent, fire chief, police chief and city treasurer will now all earn $75,000 yearly. The city treasurer now will earn $60,000 a year.

"I voted against all of them, except the police chief, because I think he's been doing a great job, working well with the sheriff and taking crime off the streets and I feel like he'll continue to do that," McPeek said.

Councilman Gunning said the decision was not a personal one, but one for the betterment of the city.

"This is nothing against Todd at all," Gunning said. "The city has been moving backwards for the past few years, and this is a decision we thought would move the city forward. We wanted to get some fresh people in there."

Gunning said he understands not all the city's residents may like the move.

"I know it's not been popular with some folks, but at the same time, it has been popular with others. In the end, what I have to do and what we have to do is make decisions that are the best for the city, and we felt like this was one of them."

Gunning said he wants to focus on improvements to Harrisburg that will make it more likely to attract business to reduce the number of people moving away from the city. He said he thinks city residents are ready to move forward.

"We knew this would be a speed bump, but hopefully this will pass and we will get some work done," Gunning said.

Council meets at 6 p.m. Thursday for its first regular May meeting.