Fremont City Council members, after a 12-minute executive session, voted unanimously Tuesday to hire Kris Kobach to defend the voter-approved illegal immigration ordinance against two lawsuits filed last week.
The council also voted to suspend implementation and enforcement of the ordinance until 14 days after the U.S. District Court rules on motions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for an injunction prohibiting its implementation.
City attorney Dean Skokan said delaying the ordinance was Kobach's suggestion. The Kansas City attorney wrote Fremont's ordinance, as well as similar ordinances in other communities and states.
"There are both sound legal reasons in my judgment and economic reasons to suspend the ordinance at this preliminary stage," Skokan said.
The ordinance was set to take effect Thursday, and several members of the public urged the council to continue that timeline.
Carl Schaffner suggested implementing the part that deals with employers using e-Verify and delaying the rental portion of the ordinance.
"I would like to see the ordinance adopted," Schaffner said. "At the very least, go through with the business part, which is the law of the land."
Others, however, were supportive of the council's decision,
"I just talked to Kris Kobach right before the meeting," Scott Schaller said. "Just in case the audience didn't hear, he is in favor of delaying this. I think it would be a good choice of the city to do so. It would save a lot of cost."
Schaller, a former council member, is running unopposed in November for a Ward 3 seat.
Former council member Bob Warner also called it "a wise decision."
A hearing was scheduled in Federal District Court today to address the injunctions. Skokan was not sure whether that will take place now that the city suspended the ordinance.
The council heard strong support for Kobach, who in June offered his services free of charge. Nine people spoke and seven of them said they wanted Kobach hired.
"There are a few, perhaps only a handful of legal experts nationally that are capable of defending this ordinance. Kris Kobach is one of these experts," John Wiegert said.
Schaller said there are other options, but not with Kobach's resume.
"I believe if we're going to be arguing constitutionality, we need to have a Constitution attorney, and I feel that we need to have somebody that's the best in the nation," Schaller said.
"You've also got the same attorney who has written the ordinance, what a better person to defend the ordinance. He wrote it, he should defend it. (If) he loses it, that's on him, that's not on you," Schaller said.
The only person who openly opposed hiring Kobach was Kristin Ostrom.
"For the last two years we have been somewhat hijacked by an unconstitutional bad idea that's been peddled around the country and taken up in a few towns, including our town," she said. "Unfortunately, though, Kris Kobach has an excellent resume, he has lost in federal court all the time except in Valley Park (Mo.).
"Ultimately I don't think it's going to matter who our defense attorney is, because ultimately I think we will be found to have an unconstitutional law in federal court," she said.
The motion to secure Kobach's services was contingent upon an engagement letter between the city and Kobach.
The city considered using the League Association of Risk Management, or a group of local attorneys.
Skokan said he intends to retire in the near future and will not represent the city in the immigration battle, and at least three people said they are suspicious of LARM, accusing the city's insurance provider of a conflict of interest.
Jerry Hart said mistrust toward LARM and city officials would "taint" the selection of any attorney other than Kobach.
"If you pick somebody else and they lose the case, definitely there will be some consideration for lawsuits, I will guarantee you that," Hart said.
But Don Schneider, an attorney from Fremont, praised the council's efforts. The council vote on the ordinance two years ago was a tie, he pointed out.
"That hardly means that the council was totally opposed to this ordinance," he said.
"To direct your anger like that to the city is, in my view, not fair, because once the voters spoke, this city council acted promptly and properly on everything that they could do," he said.
Prior to adjournment, City Administrator Bob Hartwig spoke to critics of the council.
He said he recommended engaging Kobach in an advisory role and accepting LARM's coverage.
"I know that disagrees with a lot of you people in this room tonight," Hartwig said. "I have 30 years of experience and a lot of that is as a safety and risk manager for cities, many cities."
He said this is the first time he's seen a city not accept its insurance coverage.
"This council may have disagreed with you in the past, but this council is telling you tonight that they understand what the will of the people is," he said. "The people in the election on June 21 set policy, this council is now in a role where they need to implement that policy, which is a little unusual for a city council."
Hartwig said council members "go through a lot and they don't get paid very much for the work they do."
"You can disrespect me all you want, you can disagree with me all you want, but I have a very, very serious problem with you criticizing what this council does," he said.