A working group of Moorhead city leaders plans to resume its search in February to recruit a full-time city attorney, city manager Dan Mahli told the city council at its regular meeting Monday.
“Our 2021 budget includes funding to bring the city’s legal services in-house,” the manager explained. While the move offers some financial benefit to the city, compared with its present practice of contracting for services with an outside firm, he said the move primarily takes advantage of a rare opportunity to consolidate Moorhead’s legal representation in a single office. Prosecutorial duties are already headed by staff attorney Cheryl Duysen, who leads a staff of five in pursuing misdemeanors.
The city attorney provides consultation on municipal law, including finance, litigation, labor and real estate matters. That role has been filled for more than 25 years by John Shockley, under contract with the Ohnstad Twichell law firm. The firm will continue to consult when additional expertise is needed.
The city attorney is one of only two city employees whom the council hires directly. (The other is the city manager.) A working group consisting of council members Shelly Carlson and Deb White, Mayor Johnathan Judd, human resources director Amy Settergren, Mayor Johnathan Judd and Mahli has been working to define the needs and lay plans to recruit applicants. The attorney position was originally advertised in September, but withdrawn due to its timing; it will be readvertised in February.
Until 2019, Moorhead also contracted out its prosecution of minor criminal offenses to the Clay County Prosecutor’s office. Those duties were taken in-house in February 2019 when the city and county failed to renew their five-year contract.