Gunnison council splits
3-2 over mayor’s move to
alter legal counsel roles
By Robert Stevens
Feb. 1, 2018
GUNNISON—Gunnison City’s new mayor, Lori Nay, made her mayoral appointments earlier this month, yet not without concern voiced from some council members during the legal counsel appointments.
During the regularly scheduled city council meeting on Jan. 17, the city council voted 3-2 in favor of her decisions, which were mostly reappointments, yet one of Nay’s decisions caused some hesitation among the council.
Most of her picks didn’t make any waves, but Nay’s decision on the roles for legal counsel was where business as usual went out the window.
Although current Gunnison City attorney Mandy Larsen was retained in a prosecutor role, Nay made the call to appoint Peter Stirba as official city civil attorney on an on-call basis.
“He is an attorney that has a lot of clout in the state,” Nay said. “He has represented so many municipal cases with his firm it is just second nature to him. He has given us a really big discount for us to use him. I really think he can help us if we need to do any negotiating with the state.”
Nay gave the council an example from 2002 when the prison’s sewer processing equipment was not working properly and clogging the city sewer lines. Nay said the prison refused to admit there was a problem, and she said Stirba’s involvement was why the city was able to negotiate a $7-million payout from the prison for a new sewer line.
“I think he has proved his value for us in the past,” Nay said. “For basic things, I think we would still use Mandy, but Stirba would be used in special circumstances. I would like the council’s approval of these.”
City Councilman Blake Donaldson asked if Stirba was Nay’s personal attorney, to which she replied, “No, he is not anymore.”
Donaldson said Larsen had been giving the city an excellent deal handling both the criminal and civil cases for a total of about $1,000 per month and had been doing a good job of it.
Nay replied that the mayor gets to decide who will be appointed to these positions.
New Gunnison Councilwoman Michelle Smith asked Nay why the city was making this change. “Hasn’t Mandy been doing it ok?” Smith asked.
Nay replied that Mandy would still be retained by the city, but if extraordinary measures were required, she “wanted him [Stirba] at the helm.”
Nay said the city would not be paying Stirba a retainer. Instead the arrangement would be a fee of $150 per hour billed for city use.
Councilman Robert Anderson said he had no qualms as long as there was no retainer and Stirba was only used on an as-needed basis.
“He would be used for when we needed some extra clout or negotiation power, and then we would call on him,” Nay said.
Donaldson asked if the city would still need to pay Larsen’s $200 per month retainer. He commented that she had helped the city during various civil legal matters, both little and big, to good effect.
“We will keep her in her same position,” said Nay. “We can use her for any local matters, but I just would like to have an ace-in-the-hole if we need it.”
Nay said sometimes situations arise that need to be handled on a state level and that things get handled a lot better if you have an attorney with “a lot of clout.”
Smith brought up Stirba’s $150-per-hour charge, expressing some concern if the city could handle that cost. Nay assured her Stirba was not out to gouge the city.
“This is just a position of honor that I want to give him,” Nay said. “It’s just a matter of honoring that person, something you do when working with professionals.”
Councilman Andy Hill said he would prefer Larsen be used for legal counsel whenever a legal matter arises that is within her capability. Nay said if that arose, the council would have to make that distinction on case-by-case basis.
The other appointments included Nay’s decision for appointment of the city’s land use officer: Bruce Parker, who has already been working with Gunnison City.
“We have used Bruce Parker for quite a few years now,” Nay said. “He’s the premier land-use guru in the state. He has helped us navigate through some pretty dark waters.”
For the city’s zoning administrator, Nay said her choice was Rod Taylor, who had also been occupying that role for the city currently.
“He’s willing to continue operating in that role, and I am thrilled about that,” Nay said. “He understands the code, and he knows how to enforce it fairly and evenly.”
Nay asked that a motion be made to approve her appointments.
Hill made the motion for the appointments. Donaldson seconded the motion based on the assurance that Larsen was still retained with her $200 monthly civil counsel retainer.
During the vote, Councilman Blane Jensen voted no, as did Smith.
Councilmembers Hill, Anderson and Donaldson all voted in support—although Donaldson noted it was with some reluctance.