Benton Harbor attorney in limbo | Local News

BENTON HARBOR — Benton Harbor city commissioners say they want their employees back now that the city is no longer under state control.

The city charter calls for five department heads to report directly to the City Commission – the city manager, assessor, clerk, financial director and attorney.

While under state control from April 2010 until July 1, the state-appointed emergency managers reorganized the staff so they all reported to the city manager, with the city manager being the only employee of the City Commission.

In August, city commissioners gave their attorney, Randy Hyrns from Bittner Jennings Attorneys of St. Joseph, a 60-day notice that they are terminating his contract.

“It’s time for us to have our employees back by charter,” city Commissioner Duane Seats said at the August meeting.

City Commissioner Juanita Henry said in August that city commissioners need to tell their employees what they want before they terminate them.

“The state did take it from us. Now, we have to take it back,” she said. “… We have to give him the message that we’re back in power, and he has to address our concerns before we give him a 60-day notice.”

Hyrns was absent from the August meeting because he was out of town.

However, since giving Hyrns the 60-day notice, the city hasn’t requested proposals for a new attorney, and time is running out.

City Manager Darwin Watson said Hyrns’ last day is supposed to be Oct. 16. 

Benton Harbor was under two consecutive state-appointed emergency managers from April 2010 through March 2014, due to the city’s debt. After that, the city was under the supervision of a state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board and then, the Michigan Treasury Department.

Watson said he emailed commissioners a draft request of a proposal for an attorney in August, but hasn’t heard back from them.

“It has to be reviewed by the commission because it’s their employee,” he said when contacted by phone Monday. He said city commissioners need to give him direction on what they would like the city attorney’s contract to look like.

Watson said the city commissioners didn’t tell him they were going to give the attorney a 60-day notice until at the Aug. 7 meeting.

“Had I known this was coming, I could have prepared and had the…

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