Hiring law firm was a bad idea

Warren taxpayers should not be on the hook to split legal fees with Patriot Water.

Last month City Council voted to approve paying Bott Law Group $234,272.08 for legal action started in May 2011 when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency decided not to renew a permit for the Warren wastewater treatment plant to treat water from oil and natural gas drilling sites. Law Director Greg Hicks said the payment was for Bott representing the city in appealing the Ohio EPA decision.

But the EPA decision really affects Patriot, a private business that pretreats oilfield waste, called brine. Patriot has a unique process that it say makes brine safely treatable by municipal wastewater plants. The EPA decision jeopardizes Patriot’s ability to exist. Its owner hired Bott to take legal action against the Ohio EPA.

The city should not enter the fray when private enterprise faces legal hurdles. In fact, we suspect Warren’s involvement is unprecedented here.

The city should protect its own interests. Its interests in this case are not jeopardized since the Ohio EPA ruling does not interfere with the wastewater department’s standard operation.

The city can, and probably should, recognize that it has an ancillary interest in that Patriot is a utility customer and local employer. It, therefore, should have used its law department to represent taxpayers as an interested third party.

To share legal expenses with the private company, though, is overstepping. Many, many employers, potential employers, utility customers and potential utility customers have to manage through legal hurdles to operate. Imagine the city sharing that burden with all of them.

To say joining this lawsuit required a specialized legal expertise that the law department could not handle doesn’t justify the expense. Patriot needs that expertise, not the city.

Perhaps this puts the matter into a better perspective: The $234,272.08 is enough to pay for several police officers for one year in a city struggling to control violent crime.