City attorney: Reappointment vote was close, but not personal

Sunday Times Newspapers


LINCOLN PARK — City Attorney Edward Zelenak isn’t phased by the closest City Council vote to continue his long service to officials.


The vote last month was 4-3 to reappoint him to the position he’s held since February 1987. Council members Valerie Brady, Thomas Murphy and Michael Myers voted against the reappointment; Mayor Frank Vaslo and councilmen Thomas McPartlin, Mario DiSanto and Mark Kandes voted in favor.


“To me it’s merely the continuation of a process of giving the city excellent representation, as I have for the last 30-plus years,” Zelenak said last week, noting that he also served as assistant city attorney to John Aloisi since 1978.


Some in the community have said that the vote represents the opponents’ dissatisfaction with Zelenak’s reaching an unauthorized settlement agreement allowing a Larry Flynt Hustler Club into the city. The club had sued the city, claiming unconstitutional zoning ordinances; the two sides reached the agreeement in order to avoid a protracted legal battle.


Zelenak attributes the close vote to factors beyond the agreement, saying that one of the first actions of the three no voters as council members was a move to limit the ability of the city manager, department heads and employees to consult with him.


“This has absolutely nothing to do with strip club issue,” he said. “It’s a matter of personalities.”
Of the “16 or 17” reappointment votes he’s seen, the closeness of the most recent vote was simply the law of averages catching up with him.


“You can’t always have 7-0 votes,” Zelenak said. “Besides, it’s still a better percentage than (President Barack) Obama got.”


A lifelong city resident, he says quality of service always has been a benchmark.


“The folks who voted to reappoint me have voted for good, judicious decisions for the city,” said Zelenak, who also has served as Southgate’s city attorney for the past 3 1/2 years and 20 of the last 26. He said he’s got a “good staff of lawyers working for well below the legal norm that I would stack up against any legal team in the country” and has kept his hometown out of trouble.


Additionally, he cited a modest billing pattern over the years that doesn’t include charges for occasional calls or walk-through visits to City Hall. His $65 per hour — the same as he charged in 1987 — was $20 under the next lowest bid of $85 and well below the top bid of $135.


Despite the attempt to restrict his contact with some city officials, Zelenak said they “haven’t hesitated to contact me,” and that he checks nearly daily with them to see if there are any issues.


“When they call, I talk to them,” he said.


As for the council, Zelenak said, “They have the right to put in whoever they want. To me, you don’t take it personally. I’ve been here a long time and seen a lot of city councils come and go.”