By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
As many residents were home watching election results from the general election roll in, Delray Beach City Commissioners were in city hall chambers conducting city business, which ended with city attorney Max Lohman tendering his resignation.
An unscheduled agenda item, the topic of the city attorney and his performance, was brought up by Mayor Shelly Petrolia during the city commissioner comments portion of the meeting on Nov. 6.
Reading from a prepared statement, she stated her concerns about the legal services Lohman provided to the city.
“There is nothing more concerning than to lose confidence in your legal advisor,” she said. “And I am at that point.”
She listed several reasons of concern to her before passing the gavel over so she could make a motion to terminate Lohman’s employment with the city.
“I question if we are getting the full information before being asked to make important decisions,” she said. “I question the inconsistency I have witnessed coming from the attorney in shade meetings. I am concerned about the policy decisions being made and/or manipulated by non-elected officials and I am concerned about the general lack of communication. I question if attorney Lohman is the right fit for Delray. All of these concerns factor into my loss of confidence and decision to seek new counsel.”
She made a motion to fire him, but before commissioners could cast a vote on his employment status, Lohman resigned.
Petrolia said she had spoken to Lohman about his employment the day before the meeting.
Before reading off a prepared resignation letter, he refuted comments Petrolia made about his service to the city.
“If it’s the desire of a majority of this commission for me not to serve as your city attorney anymore, I am happy to tender my resignation if that is what you so desire,” Lohman said. “If you want to bring on an interim city attorney that has no idea what is going on in this city…you are certainly free to do that.”
Commissioner Bill Bathurst suggested the discussion about Lohman take place on another meeting that wasn’t election night. The agenda was very light and the meeting began at 6 p.m. with polls still open.
“It’s election night and we don’t have a full commission,” he said. “I think it should be brought up when we have a full commission.”
Commissioner Ryan Boylston was at a work event and could not attend the meeting.
When Petrolia brought up scheduling a time to discuss who would serve as interim city attorney, Lohman fired back that he spoke to the assistant city attorneys and none wanted to take over the top legal job.
The comment by Lohman didn’t phase Commissioner Shirley Johnson who said, “I imagine we are going to be flooded with people who want to work as our city attorney.”
Commissioner Adam Frankel said he has always supported the city having a dedicated in-house attorney, but during goal setting he said he would give Lohman and his firm a chance.
Johnson agreed that one of her campaign promises was hiring a full-time, in-house city attorney.
Lohman and his firm work for other cities including Palm Beach Gardens and Lantana. The assistant city attorneys are all full-time Delray employees.
Lohman and his firm were hired in Nov. 2016. The firm charges the city a blended rate of $210 per hour for all general legal work and $250 per hour for litigation, administrative hearings, and appeals from administrative hearings with no retainer fee.
His letter states that his resignation took effect immediately.
“It has been professionally challenging, and, at times, rewarding to represent the City of Delray Beach,” the letter states. “I will miss working with and supporting the wonderful and talented city employees that I have come to know, care for, and admire.”
He stated leading the city attorney’s office has been “one of the most professionally fulfilling experiences of my career.”
Commissioners held a special meeting a week later to discuss filling the position. Lohman’s statement that no one from the office wanted to step up into the interim role was false.
Ultimately, assistant city attorney Lynn Gillen was unanimously appointed by commissioners to the interim job.
But before the vote was cast, Mayor Petrolia advocated for bringing in another outside law firm even though the rest of the commission agreed they wanted to consider a full-time, in-house position.
She said she asked Weiss Serota, which has represented the city in legal cases, to step in and serve.
“It can take us a while to find a city attorney,” she said, adding she didn’t want Gillen to be overworked.
But the rest of the commission agreed it would be best for the city to keep the position in-house.
“We have capable in-house city attorneys,” Commissioner Johnson said. “ I like in-house people who actually live here, work here. I am at a loss to why we need to have a contracted attorney, we just got rid of one.”
Gillen said she doesn’t want the position forever, but she is willing to step in for a temporary period of time.
“I may not know everything that comes before me, but I promise I will do my homework,” she told commissioners. “I am going to give you 150 percent. I don’t mind putting in the hours. I love this city.”