North Platte lawyer Terry Waite moved from the City Hall audience to the front table Tuesday night after a unanimous City Council vote chose his law firm as the city’s legal counsel.
Waite & McWha, nominated for the task Friday by Mayor Dwight Livingston, takes over the duties performed for some 25 years by recently retired City Attorney Doug Stack.
The firm’s appointment takes effect today, but a flat-rate, one-year contract has yet to be negotiated for later council approval, City Administrator Jim Hawks said.
The city budgeted $230,610 for legal services for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Waite & McWha’s eventual contract will cover the rest of this fiscal year and part of the next, Hawks said.
Though he won’t bear Stack’s title, Waite will be the city’s lead counsel as senior partner of the firm he and Todd McWha have led together for more than 30 years.
He’ll be backed up by McWha, former Nebraska Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Amen Tomka and possibly one or two people more likely to join the firm soon, Waite said during a 30-minute council work session.
“You would become our big client, our major client,” he told council members. “But I’m happy to make the city of North Platte my priority. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve already started turning down other cases.”
He emphasized his and McWha’s long and broad experience in representing local governments and officials throughout Nebraska, usually as specially appointed counsel when particularly delicate cases arise.
Because the firm has represented the city’s insurers in the past, several council members asked Waite about how his firm would handle potential conflicts of interest.
That shouldn’t come up, Waite replied, because both he and the insurer long sought to keep the firm out of any legal cases involving North Platte.
In workers’ compensation cases, League Association of Risk Management attorneys likely would work alongside Waite & McWha, Hawks said.
Councilman Andrew Lee brought up recent attention on the level of city enforcement of its housing codes, asking Waite how involved he would be in handling complaints.
He would handle the bulk of such cases, Waite replied, adding that McWha has the same level of experience.
If legal action needs to be initiated, he said, “I’d prefer to be involved in drafting the letter, knowing what the problem is ahead of time and being involved from Step 1.”
In other business, the council:
» Approved a Buffalo Bill Kiwanis Club application for $20,000 in city Newburn Funds to help additional playground equipment in Iron Horse Park near the 20th Century Veterans Memorial.
Council members chipped in an identical amount in December 2018 to help install the park’s $44,000 first stage, which was accomplished last fall.
Iron Horse’s Stage 2 will mark the third public park project for the club, which raises most of the funds and buys and maintains the equipment.
» Gave 7-1 final approval, with Councilman Ed Rieker opposed, to a “street improvement district” ordinance to widen North Lakeview Boulevard as apartment and commercial projects begin to take shape near Lakeview and West A Street.
» Unanimously gave final approval to another ordinance updating the city’s fire code to 2018 international standards.