You Can’t Fight City Hall: The $200,000 Reason

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By Dave Freneaux
“You can’t fight City Hall” is an old saying that has become very real in the City of Central. Recent headlines have highlighted the conflict between citizens and elected officials over Central’s $5 million, 18,000 square-foot, two-story City Hall proposed by Mayor Shelton and supported by the entire City Council. Another fight in Central involves the decisions coming FROM City Hall, not the building itself.
It began when citizens asked Central’s Mayor and Council how 250 apartments were allowed in the Shoe Creek development across from Walmart, when Central’s ordinances only allowed for 42 apartments. In this David and Goliath struggle, citizens found themselves out-spent and out-lawyered when they challenged decisions coming from Central’s City Hall.
After the city ignored the pleas of citizens and approved the 250 apartments, the only recourse left was a legal challenge. Encouraged by hundreds of citizens, three citizens filed suit. Putting up their own money for a single attorney, Dave Freneaux, Mike Mannino, and Mike Stephens asked the courts to decide whether the Council vote was legal. The city responded with a team of attorneys, partnered up with the developer’s team of attorneys, and piled on the legal paperwork.
After motions, interrogatories, depositions, objections, and a motion for summary judgment, all filed by the city’s legal team, the city spent over $140,000 in defense of a single developer and his 250 apartments. The city won, convincing the courts that since a city council makes the laws, they also have the right allow a developer not to follow those laws.
During that lawsuit, the City of Central withheld documents from Public Records Requests and failed to disclose that as the Public Records Law requires. In addition, many hundreds of documents were withheld and eventually released months after being requested. The result was a lawsuit under the Public Records Act, asking the court to force the city to abide by the Public Records Law.
That suit began three years ago, and Dave Freneaux’s single attorney was again met by a team of attorneys for the city and the city’s private city services contractor, IBTS. Now, after three years of motions, objections, interrogatories, a deposition, and two motions for summary judgment, ALL filed by the city and IBTS, the suit still has yet to go to trial.
The city has spent over $64,000 to ensure that public records are not released, in addition to the $140,000 to allow a developer to build 250 apartments. And THAT is the $200,000 reason that You Can’t Fight City Hall… in Central.