POLSON — The city manager’s and attorney’s offices here are staffed again after a month of vacancies.
The late-October departures of City Manager Mark Shrives and City Attorney Rich Gebhardt left Mayor Paul Briney, the city’s six commissioners and its employees without day-to-day management or legal guidance.
On Nov. 14, the commission decided that Chief of Police Wade Nash would serve as interim city manager during the months-long search for a new one. At their Monday-night meeting, they agreed to pay him an extra $461.54 every two weeks. Nash told the commissioners that “it’s been an interesting couple days.”
Nash explained that he’s busy meeting with city staff and familiarizing himself with city projects, but that “it’s tough to be able to move forward with a lot of that stuff when we don't have attorneys, so I'm hoping that we can get that resolved tonight and that we can move forward.”
He identified local attorney Clint Fischer as his first choice. “I think he's an individual that's lived in our community for many years, practiced law, has the expertise to work through critical and tough situations, [and] is an individual of good moral character.” Fischer also served as city attorney under Mayor John Glueckert in the mid-1990s.
Fischer said he had agreed to the contract “to help the city when they needed help.”
Under his one-year agreement, the city will pay Fischer $42,000. Fischer said that while he doesn’t have any sense of how long he’ll remain as city attorney, he plans to stay on for the entire year.
The commissioners recently agreed that the question of severance pay for Shrives needs legal review. Fischer had no comment on this topic, and said that he had no specific changes in mind for the city attorney’s office.
The city also agreed to retain the services of another Polson attorney, Josh Morigeau, for criminal prosecution. Morigeau, also an associate justice in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ court, served in the city’s legal department from May 2014 until earlier this year, when he was dismissed. Polson's city charter generally gives the city manager sway over personnel decisions, and Shrives held that post at the time.
Speaking with the Missoulian Tuesday, Morigeau declined to discuss the specifics of his departure, but said that “it was just kind of a surprise to me and I continued forward with my own private practice.”
Nash defended him Monday night, telling the commissioners that, despite some concerns, “it felt like Josh did a good job for what we offered him. I feel like the situation before was mishandled when he was let go; I think he's a good attorney.”
Morigeau, for his part, said he's glad that "I get to serve in the community that I’m from.”
He said that he plans to focus on catching up from recent weeks’ backlog. Under the contract, he’ll work part-time for the city and be paid $2,400 a month for his services, until the city contracts with a longer-term attorney.