In a closed session Tuesday night, the Northfield City Council authorized City Attorney Chris Hood to defend the city in any lawsuits regarding the public safety center financing that was approved Aug. 28.

It was a direct result from a threat made by David Ludescher, Northfield attorney and city council candidate, to sue the city for approving $6.28 million in lease-purchase financing to build a new police facility and renovate the current safety center for the fire department.

After the city’s regular work session Tuesday, Administrator Tim Madigan said that before the closed session was announced, Ludescher told Hood that he was going to file a lawsuit on Tuesday.

That day came and no lawsuit was filed.

Madigan said Ludescher then told Hood that he “may file a lawsuit Thursday.”

He said the type of funding the city is using for the public safety building project is not unprecedented.

As far as a reverse referendum, which Ludescher has said could be a way to strike down the financing, Madigan said that he hasn’t seen a legal argument that would support it.

“I’ve not seen any legal basis for a reverse referendum,” Madigan said.

What is clear, Madigan said, is that “Chris Hood should defend the city.”

Tuesday afternoon prior to the closed session, Ludescher said he could not say for sure if and when a lawsuit would be filed on his client’s behalf.

“I haven’t filed a lawsuit yet,” he said. “I was going to file it before today, but then when I heard they were going to call a special session, [I thought] I’ll give them the opportunity to come to their senses.”

Ludescher said his threat, at least, got the council’s attention.

“[They could] use it as an opportunity to do something productive or use it as a means to circle the wagons, I don’t know.” he said. “I guess we’ll just have to see.”

Ludescher could not be reached for comment after the council’s work session late Tuesday night.

Background

At the Aug. 28 city council meeting before the funding was approved, Ludescher anticipated that a petition for a reverse referendum to strike down the project would be launched and a lawsuit would be filed.

The approved funding does not give the public an opportunity to vote on it, which is one of the points that spurred an unsolicited legal opinion from Ludescher prior to the meeting.

Ludescher wrote that the city appeared to violate state statutes if they approved the project as is.

He said it is illegal for the council to agree to an obligation beyond an annually expiring lease without allowing a public vote on the bonding that would finance the leased building’s construction.

The opinion said the new building is a “capital improvement,” meaning an acquisition or betterment of land or buildings meant for public use, so the public should be able to vote on it.

“We are of the opinion that the Council must hold a public hearing on the issuance of the bonds,” the opinion said, “and that the public has the right to call for a reverse referendum within 30 days [of a council vote].”

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117.

Reach reporter Kaitlyn Walsh at 645-1117.

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