Sturgeon Bay, Pinkert Law Firm Part Ways

Fans of modern tragicomedy may want to attend the next meeting of the Sturgeon Bay Common Council to see a train wreck in action, if the 4½-hour marathon held for a 25-item agenda on the night of June 5 is any indication of how future meetings will go.

At almost the four-hour point of the meeting, Alderman David Ward made a point of order:  “At 10 o’clock the air handling system shut down and hasn’t been on since. If we’re going to have meetings until 11:30, somebody better reset the timer on Tuesday nights.”

With four of the seven-member council new to city governance since the April 3 election, there is a great deal of stumbling and inefficiency as they collectively try to find their feet as a functioning board.

But the frustration is palpable. Several times at Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Thad Birmingham mentioned that in the past, complicated issues that require analysis usually are presented to a committee to deal with all the details and options before presenting something to the full council for its consideration.

“But we don’t seem to be doing that much anymore, so we’re just winging it. So let’s wing it,” Birmingham said at about hour four of the meeting when the council was trying to decide what to do about replacing its legal services after Pinkert Law Firm announced that after two decades of service to the city, it was ending both its municipal and prosecutorial roles with the city.

“We appreciated the time that we’ve been able to work with the many dedicated city officials over that time period,” said Randy Nesbitt, who had served as the attorney for the city’s governmental legal matters. “It was time for a change. It was time for a changeover in our municipal work. I’m going to focus more on other clients.”

In the meantime, the council authorized city Administrator Josh VanLieshout to find an interim legal representation. Alderwoman Kelly Catarozoli added an amendment that VanLieshout also send out a request for proposal for permanent legal representation, but withdrew the amendment when Alderwoman Laurel Hauser objected to it on the grounds that perhaps now is the time to consider the option of going back to a full-time city attorney with the city’s interests as the main job rather than a hired gun.

The council also discussed the dirt piles at the foot of the Oregon Street bridge. VanLieshout had been directed to give notice to the interested parties that the dirt had to be removed. Bayland Buildings was one of the parties, and VanLieshout said they did not own them.

That leaves former hotel developer Bob Papke, who is suing the city for the failed hotel development on the site.

“He hasn’t responded to vacation notice,” VanLieshout said. The next step, he said, would be to seek a motion in court to have the dirt piles removed.

However, the morning after the meeting the Pulse received a notice from Papke’s attorney, Jonathan Smies of Godfrey & Kahn, that was dated June 5 and sent to former city attorney Randy Nesbitt. The letter states, “The dirt piles are indisputably property of Sawyer [Hotel Development, LLC].”

It goes on to cite a paragraph in an amendment to the development contract that states if the project is not completed, “the City will purchase the dirt piles from the Developer for $16,000.”

Also according to the development contract, the letter states, “Sawyer still holds exclusive rights to develop the hotel.”

The letter concludes with this:  “In short, Sawyer owns the dirt piles and any attempt by the City to relocate the dirt piles would be in violation of Sawyer’s contractual rights.”

A call to VanLieshout to learn the city’s next move was not returned before press time.

In other matters, the council:

  • Tabled for future discussion a plan proposed by freshman Alderman David Hayes to end the Waterfront Redevelopment Authority and replace it with a Community Development Authority.
  • Approved a 34-unit townhouse development at Amity Field, in the 700 block of Erie and Florida streets.
  • Approved a plan to reroute all but local deliveries by trucks along Third Avenue.

Anyone who would like to view the marathon meeting can do so. It’s posted in two parts at

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