Cottonwood City Council renewed City Magistrate A. Douglas Lasota’s contract for another two years.
The June 6 decision, approved in a 4-3 vote, followed an extended discussion during which council members expressed unease about not renewing Lasota’s contract without information on improving court efficiency.
According to Councilwoman Tosca Henry and Mayor Timothy Elinski, such information had been compiled by Henry but had not been provided to the council prior to meeting.
“At this point, I’m more inclined not to reappoint Judge Lasota,” Elinski said, offering to provide the data compiled by Henry that suggested a more efficient method of running the courts was available to the city.
“This is an opportunity to run our court more efficiently .... It’s a difficult situation we’re in [but] I feel very confident there are many options that will save the taxpayers thousands of dollars.”
Henry said that she believed it would be “unfair” to keep Lasota’s appointment up in the air and urged for finality to ensure the impartiality of the court — a difficult proposition, she added, for a department run by man who knows he may soon be let go.
Councilwoman Karen Pfeifer said that she felt “uncomfortable” with the idea of making a decision based upon information that Elinski referred to regarding increased efficiency but had not provided to the council.
According to Pfeifer, Elinski had said he would provide the information necessary to inform the council’s decision. Elinski reiterated Henry’s point, saying that he felt it would be unfair to table the issue further when Lasota’s employment was on the line. The item had already been tabled once, on hold since the council’s last meeting.
Lasota, who stood before the council as it deliberated, said that he would be fine with waiting another two weeks for a decision and an opportunity to view what documents the council had in support of not renewing his contract.
At the same time, he questioned Elinksi and Henry’s claim of being fair: “How are you being fair to the judge when there’s no transparency whatsoever?”
Following a unanimous move to executive session with Cottonwood City Attorney Steven B. Horton — who cautioned that the council could only enter that session to solicit and obtain legal advice, not as a “substitute for a personnel discussion” — the council returned and voted 4-3 to renew Lasota’s contract at the same salary for another two years.
Elinski, Henry and Councilwoman Kyla Allen voted nay.
On June 8, Elinski explained that the council had for years maintained a “hands-off approach” to the court, but that he personally felt sure there would be a lot of benefits to merging, consolidating or contracting with another municipal court to handle the city’s judicial matters. Should Lasota’s contract not have been renewed, Elinski noted, the court would not have been in jeopardy: Cottonwood employs pro-tem magistrates, and would continue to do so to cover Lasota’s absence while an efficient means of running the court is discussed.
“I feel like we lost an opportunity,” Elinski said. “I hope to have this discussion again in the future.”
The council unanimously approved the city’s fiscal year 2018 tentative budget of $85,054,740, which Administrative Services General Manager Rudy Rodriguez stressed was basically a wish list that gives the city budget authority to accept all potential revenues and use them for their budgeted purposes.
For the third consecutive year, Rodriguez said, city employees will not be receiving a cost of living adjustment. The council also unanimously approved Damien Browning’s proposal to wave rental and setup fees at the Cottonwood Recreational Facility for Saturday, June 24. On that date from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Browning’s nonprofit organization Steps to Recovery Homes will host its second annual Erase the Stigma Educational and Awareness Day at the recreation center.
“Addiction and substance abuse are core issues in our community,” Browning said. “This is our community, and we care."