The City Council has hired a firm to help recruit a new city attorney.
Council members briefly discussed the details of replacing former City Attorney Frank Jensen during a special meeting, then at the regular meeting approved a contract with Colin Baenziger & Associates, a Florida-based executive search firm. That contract specifies an amount not to exceed $26,500, which will cover all expenses except the cost of bringing in finalists to interview.
During the workshop, council members noted the success they have had in using an executive search firm to fill the city manager position now held by Michael Cleghorn. That firm isn’t available, said Human Resources Director Dewayne Burk, who explained that search firms take on a limited number of clients because of the time and attention an executive-level search takes.
The city attorney is one of four positions that answer to the City Council; all other city employees are deemed to work under the supervision of the city manager.
The existing job description — which may be revised during the search process — specifies the city attorney provides legal advice to and representation of the city, and performs a variety of complex, high-level administrative, technical and professional duties. While he/she is deemed an employee of the council, the city attorney also is responsible for managing and supervising the city’s legal department.
Council members have not designated a timeline for that search. Earlier this year, they hired Lawton attorney Bob Ross as interim city attorney to fill the role until a permanent city attorney is put into place.
The new city attorney will replace long-time City Attorney Frank Jensen, who resigned his position in August, but who also has a retirement agreement to continue working on legal issues under the direct supervision of the city manager. That work arrangement will last through March 2020, when Jensen will be eligible to retire.
Neither council members nor city administrators have commented on Jensen’s departure, beyond acknowledging an independent investigation concerning him had been under way.
In September, five female City of Lawton employees, all one-time employees in the city attorney’s office, filed notices of tort claims and notices of charge of discrimination, alleging city officials failed to take measures against longstanding allegations of misconduct concerning Jensen. The notices are the first step in what could lead to federal/state lawsuits against the city. The women have said the pattern of behavior constitutes harassment and discrimination.
Council members have not acted on the claims, but have engaged the Oklahoma City law firm McAfee & Taft to represent them.