Thursday, October 23, 2008

Petersburg city attorney, Robert Dawson, resigns

City attorney resigns
By Markus Schmidt
Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, October 23, 2008 8:52 AM EDT
PETERSBURG — City Attorney Robert Dawson, a central figure in trying to reform Petersburg’s government, has resigned.

Dawson’s resignation will be effective Nov. 21, roughly 27 months after he started the job.

After calling a number of city officials yesterday to inform them of his decision personally, he sent a formal resignation letter by e-mail to all council members, City Manager B. David Canada, the Clerk of Council and other officials.

Dawson’s letter of resignation did not disclose any reason for his resignation and he didn’t want to add much over the phone.

"There was no specific reason for my decision," he said. "I thank the people of Petersburg for this opportunity."

Dawson has been a key official in getting an efficiency review for the city, which exposed many flaws in the operations of the local government. He is also the author of a memo that questioned the city’s ownership with the Petersburg Generals. In the October 2007 memo to the council, Dawson expressed his concern over the legality of such ownership and demanded an internal investigation. After this was made public, Commonwealth’s Attorney Cassandra Burns launched a criminal probe into the matter.

Dawson lost the support of some council members after the Generals issue became a public issue. Many council members and city officials privately blamed Dawson for revealing an issue that most would have liked to remain disclosed.

But the city’s efficiency report by Berkshire Advisors Inc. praised Dawson’s performance.

"The City of Petersburg is fortunate to have a capable city attorney with the background and experience needed to support effective city operations," the report said. "Indeed, during his tenure with the city, the city attorney has achieved some significant accomplishments."

However, the report foreshadowed problems between the city attorney and others in city government. The report noted that some city officials didn’t understand the role of city attorney and others preferred to make decisions without the input of legal counsel. The report concluded that "the city does not always make effective use of the city attorney to protect the city’s legal interests."

Councilman Ken Pritchett said he was first impressed with Dawson, until he started to look into matters "that were in the past and couldn’t be changed." Pritchett also said the city needs to react quickly and advertise the open position immediately. "It would not be a good idea to spend more money on outside lawyers when we can have one on salary," he said.

Vice Mayor Horace Webb said he wouldn’t comment on the recent controversy around Dawson, but said he thinks highly of him. "Mr. Dawson has demonstrated that he is very knowledgeable when it comes to city government. I really enjoyed working with him and I wish him all the luck," he said.

Other council members declined to comment or could not be reached.

In spite of the controversy around him, Dawson remained diplomatic in yesterday’s confidential memo. "I sincerely appreciate the opportunity that the city gave me to serve as the City’s Chief Legal Adviser," he wrote.

Dawson declined to say if he had already a new job and if he was going to leave the city.

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