The law director said he doesn't believe there's a conflict.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Two city councilmen are calling for the city law department to step aside in its handling of the lawsuit filed by Avalon South Management.
Instead, Doc Pugh, D-6th, and Bob Holmes, D-4th, are asking that an independent law firm be hired to assure there would be no conflict of interest.
In a letter to their colleagues, the two say they plan to bring legislation forward so council can decide whether to hire an attorney.
If the city at any time wishes to settle with Avalon South, run by Tony Joy Jr., Pugh and Holmes said, they want council to first approve the terms.
They also plan to draft legislation saying the city will have no future dealings with Avalon South, such as an amended lease agreement or new contract, unless ordered to do so in court.
Here's the situation: Joy filed a lawsuit last week in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, saying the city breached his lease agreement when they recently evicted him. He's also asking for an injunction to block the eviction.
As of this week, Joy was still performing his duties at Avalon South even though the city evicted him because of financial problems.
Documents show Joy had missed a few rent payments and was in arrears on county property tax.
Holmes said the city should not have its hand in Avalon South litigation because officials overlooked Joy's nonpayment of taxes and rent, and therefore did not enforce his lease agreement.
He also thinks there's a conflict of interest because some city officials have held fund-raising events at Avalon South and others play there regularly.
"You've got to get the politics out of this," he said Tuesday.
He added that he can justify spending money to hire outside counsel and pointed out the city is spending $15,000 to $25,000 to negotiate with city patrol officers.
Another reason there seems to be a conflict of interest, Pugh said, is that Joy has contended Hicks owes him $2,000 from a political fund-raiser at Avalon South a few years ago.
Hiring outside counsel is important, Pugh said, because it will tell citizens the city is serious about resolving the situation "above board."
Hicks said he doesn't think there's a conflict but that any litigation the city wants to take off his hands is OK, adding "This office is extremely busy."
He added he doesn't know where the city will get the money to pay for the outside help.
Other opinions: Councilman John Homlitas, D-3rd, said hiring an independent attorney makes sense because Hicks was involved in drafting Joy's 1993 lease extension and could be a potential witness.
He added he would like council to have a say in a potential settlement.
Councilman Brendan Keating, D-5th, said, "I think the concerns of my fellow councilmen may have some merit."
Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd, said he wants to know how the city will pay for it.
Pugh and Holmes need to take a few steps back and allow the litigation process to take its course, Novak said.