Controversy swirled around Coatesville's new city solicitor at Monday's city council meeting. The members of council and the public inquired about the new solicitor's background and the manner in which he was hired.
West Chester Attorney Andrew Lehr was appointed as the city's new solicitor Jan. 3 by a majority of council with little discussion.
Incumbent council members voted against the appointment, complaining that they hadn't been consulted.
At Monday's council meeting, Councilman Martin Eggleston welcomed Lehr as the new solicitor and inquired about his background and specific municipal experience.
"This is my first municipality that I've been appointed solicitor and I appreciate the honor," said Lehr.
Lehr said he has "worked for a number of groups that have worked for revitalization and improvement in urban areas, including Coatesville, Wilmington, De., and West Chester."
In addition, Lehr said he represents a charter school.
Kevin Rolston, a former city councilman, questioned whether the city charter required that the city solicitor have municipal experience.
According to the city charter, the solicitor must be a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and experienced in municipal law. "The intent of this Charter is that only one person shall be the legal adviser of the city and the council can authorize temporary assistants for special purposes from time to time."
At the Jan. 3 meeting, a majority of council voted to hire Siana, Bellwoar and McAndrew as a special counsel.
Lehr had ties to Councilwoman Patsy Ray, whom Lehr represented in a challenge to her residency during her run for election.
Lehr also represented Pat Sellers, defending three amendments that voters had approved to change the city charter. A county judge ruled that the amendments were unconstitutional.
Sellers dropped his appeal of the decision after Dick Saha and the city came to an agreement to terminate litigation over the six-year eminent domain action to seize the Saha farm for a regional recreation center.
Lehr and the special counsel are reviewing the issues facing the city, including the 2006 budget and the Redevelopment Authority.
Eggleston also brought up the attorney's fees. He said that former solicitor, John Carnes, billed the city $115 an hour, while Lehr's fee is $150 an hour.
"Already, we have spent thousands of dollars just since the last meeting trying to bring yourself and this special counsel up to speed," Eggleston said to Lehr.
Council President Kareem Johnson defended Lehr.
"As far as our choice for legal council, it was done at an appropriate time and it was the appropriate thing to do," Johnson said. "Costs are going to be incurred for what needs to be done. To not spend that money to get a fair and accurate assessment of where we are as a city at this time would just be ignorant and foolish."
Former Councilman David Griffith also had questions for the council regarding the solicitor. Griffith asked Johnson if he had interviewed Lehr. Johnson said he had, but when asked if he had interviewed anyone else for the job, Johnson said he had no further comment.
Sellers said that Carnes had given the city bad advice to fight the charter amendments, although a judge later ruled they were unconstitutional.
Sellers said that a challenge to the signatures on a petition relating to the amendments forced "old ladies and old men into court" to verify their handwriting on the petition. "For that alone he should have been fired," Sellers said.
Efforts to reach Carnes by telephone were not successful in time for publication.
Councilman Kurt Schenk also defended Lehr. "Lehr knows right from wrong," Schenk said. "What this man brings to the table, you can't put a price tag on it."