Lee’s Summit hires new city attorney

rpulley@lsjournal.comApril 18, 2014 

Lee’s Summit has hired Brian Head to be its new city attorney. Head is Joplin’s in-house attorney who has 17 years experience as a municipal lawyer.

The council voted 5-to-1 at a special session April 15, with Bob Johnson voting no and Ed Cockrell and Dave Mosby absent, to approve Head’s contract with the city.

Head will begin work here June 4.

“I look forward to living and working in Lee’s Summit,” Head said in a statement provided by the city. “The community is well known for its quality of life and its citizen oriented approach to government. I hope to bring my experience in redevelopment and focus in creative problem solving to the organization in an effort to assist the city as it moves into the future.”

Head, in an interview, said he thinks it is a good fit.

“I am a fairly direct and plain speaker, I don’t use a lot of legalese, especially working for a governmental body, I think it’s best to be plain and direct,” he said.

Head was city attorney when Joplin was devastated by a EF 5 tornado that hit May 22, 2011.

“That was an amazing, amazing time, as painful and awful as it was,” Head said.

Through it, he learned how a city staff can quickly come together to solve problems. One of his key roles was helping devise a process to quickly get access to many properties for debris cleanup. The city was under pressure to meet a short federal deadline to get funding and completed its task in 15 days. Head said he worked with his assistant city attorney, and with advice from other municipal lawyers in other cities, to put the program together.

He gained a career’s worth of experience in 30 days, he said.

Joplin’s population was 49,526 according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, but because it’s a regional center in southwest Missouri, its daytime population is about 240,000, according to the city.

As part of its recovery, the city approved a plan for a 3,100-acre tax- increment-financing district with 19 projects to help with the recovery. The proposed projects totaled $719 million, but also required individual approvals from Joplin’s council.

In Joplin he evaluated and negotiated the transition from a fully insured healthcare benefit for city employees to a self-insured system. He also negotiated purchase of the historic Newman Building for use as the new City Hall and drafted and negotiated an agreement providing for a trash service franchise that reduced the average residential monthly trash fee by more than 50 percent.

Councilman Allan Gray said the council was impressed by Head’s background, the variety of cases he worked, his knowledge of Missouri law, and his leadership after the tornado.

“He showed a keen ability to handle multiple tasks and take information on the fly and organize it in a way to bring about positive outcomes,” Gray said. “His knowledge of state statutes and their fine points distinguished him from many of the other candidates.”

Mayor Randy Rhoads sat in on the candidate interviews and discussions, although hiring Head was a council function and he did not vote on the contract.

He said council members also were impressed with Head’s managerial skills, which is important part of the Lee’s Summit position, because he would be supervising a legal staff and occasionally outside legal counsel hired for specialized cases.

He said that although he and City Manager Steve Arbo don’t have a formal voice in the process, they agreed with the choice.

“If we’d had any major objections, we could have articulated that and I think the council would have respected that,” Rhoads said.

Head is a graduate of University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.

He served as assistant city attorney in Joplin from 1996 to 1999, then as assistant city attorney in St. Joseph from July 1999 to August 2001 and returned to Joplin as city attorney.

Head’s annual compensation will be $132,000, with a $314 monthly car allowance and a $35 monthly cell phone stipend.

Christine Bushyhead, a former Lee’s Summit City Attorney, now a lawyer frequently representing developers, said she was acquainted with Head from her time working for the city from 1993 to 1999, through state and national associations for municipal lawyers.

She also briefly worked with him on a project in Joplin in he private practice. That was a positive experience.

“I’ve always heard good things about his work,” Bushyhead said.

She said it’s good that the council picked a lawyer who has devoted his career to being an in-house attorney in Missouri, because he’s thoroughly familiar with unique aspects of Missouri’s statutes and case law.

As Joplin’s attorney as it recovered from the tornado, she said, he would have been offering advice through a lot of emergency purchasing and contracting, land planning and regulations for rebuilding.

The city needed to work with a sense of urgency, yet protect residents from individuals who would have taken advantage of their situation, Bushyhead said.

“I admire what that community did coming through that,” Bushyhead said. “I have the impression as an outsider that Joplin did a good job.”

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