“Saddle up and ride out of town after the sun goes down”
It’s time for council members to give City Attorney Ron Stutes the boot. His bad advice and bungling have, arguably, cost Palestine and its working-class taxpayers $1 million or more. The city can’t afford any more of Stutes’ incompetence.
During closing arguments Monday, in the Lone Star Equipment lawsuit that cost the city more than $500,000, Stutes looked like a dead man walking. He delivered a robotic monologue, after Lone Star attorney David Hill engaged jurors with an energetic, almost theatrical, closing statement.
Making matters worse, Stutes made a rookie mistake by leaving time for Hill to speak again, giving Hill two cracks at the jurors.Small wonder they awarded Lone Star a judgment of more than $500,000 in a case Mayor Steve Presley had considered “a slam-dunk” for Palestine.
Over the last three years, Stutes has operated on autopilot, despite a city contract that pays him $175-an-hour.
In 2016, acting on authority given him by former City Manager Mike Alexander, Stutes initiated an ill-advised lawsuit against Palestine businessman Jerry Laza. City officials have never fessed up to exactly how much the Laza case has cost, but it could have run the city $300,000 or more.
In December, Palestine won a pyrrhic victory, with a judge ordering Laza to clean up his property. Three years after the case started, however, it still looks like a junkyard.
Stutes is not responsible for the lack of transparency in the Lone Star Equipment case. (Council members didn’t know the trial was starting last week until the day before.) City Manager Michael Hornes and Presley need to shoulder responsibility for that.
Nevertheless, it’s enough that Stutes’ fingerprints are smeared on some of the worst legal strategy in the city’s recent history.
Unfortunately, taxpayers could bear the costs, even as the city struggles to fix roads and maintain parks.
For a hardscrabble city of 19,000 residents, with average annual incomes of $20,000, to be out possibly $1 million due to poor lawyering is a shame. That’s half of the city’s $2 million general fund reserves that, for Palestine, stand between solvency and bankruptcy.
Palestine has a history of tolerating bargain basement performances by its city officials – and paying retail prices for them.
A case in point is the council’s handling of Alexander. The former city manager shook down council members for $100,000 on his way out the door.
With two new members, however, the council is not as easily bamboozled.
They will adjourn to closed session Friday afternoon to determine Stutes’ fate.
This time the verdict really is a slam dunk: Stutes must go