Dissolving WRA Presents Ethics Question for City Attorney

Randy Nesbitt, the attorney for the City of Sturgeon Bay, said he will not advise the council on the process or consequences of dissolving the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority (WRA), citing potential ethics violations.

“This is one of those instances where one attorney cannot serve two masters,” Nesbitt said.

Because the WRA is an authority under the city council, Nesbitt has represented it in legal proceedings pertaining to pending lawsuits. Dissolving the WRA would be contrary to the goals of the WRA, so Nesbitt cannot guide the council on how to do so.

“It does present a breach of ethics responsibilities and I’ve been advised to stay away from that issue completely,” Nesbitt said.

The council directed city staff to contact Green Bay-based James Kalny of Davis & Kuelthau to provide counsel in dissolving the authority.

“We will be requiring two different attorneys to figure out how to dissolve an authority,” said council member Kelly Catarozoli.

The council’s primary concern with dissolving the WRA is that it is named as a party to a lawsuit related to the city’s west side waterfront redevelopment. It is unclear how dissolving the WRA would affect that lawsuit.

The dissolution of the WRA could pose a complicated tanglement of taxpayer-funded legal counsel. Should Kalny be enlisted to help dissolve the WRA, the authority itself may request continued use of Nesbitt to defend itself. But the WRA does not have a budget separate from the city, so the council would have to sign off on Nesbitt’s defense of the WRA.

City Administrator Josh VanLieshout will contact Kalny and gather information for council members on potential options to dissolve the WRA and present them at the May 15 meeting.

The city also passed a resolution authorizing Mayor Thad Birmingham and city staff to pursue legislation allowing adoption of a Premier Resort Area Tax (PRAT) in the city. The resolution has no binding effect, as implementation of the tax will require adoption of new state legislation.

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