Lawrence mayor not giving up

City of Lawrence Mayor Deborah Cantwell continues to fight for an equitable water utility service on behalf of Lawrence residents in court and in front of the Lawrence City Council. The water fight continues for Lawrence Mayor Deborah Cantwell.

Ruling on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Cantwell has been delayed due to legal changes for the defendant. Indianapolis-based firm Ice Miller has stepped down as the counsel for Lawrence Utilities, which must file its new representation with the court this week. Once the new attorneys are named, a ruling is expected within 60 days.

The delay in legal action means even more waiting for Cantwell, who campaigned for mayor and won in large part on the water issue last November. But neither the new mayor nor her supporters seem discouraged by the delay.

"We've had a total of six Town Hall meetings and whenever we talk about this we get a lot of support," Cantwell said.

Hundreds of Lawrence residents have turned out to hear Cantwell's case against the utility company. "At the last meeting it was standing-room-only," Cantwell said, "and there were a couple hundred more who came when we made our presentation at the Oaklandon Library last week. People are leaving more angry than ever when they learn the truth."

Councilman Kyle Walker has expressed concern that the legal avenue Cantwell has chosen to pursue may be too great an expense for Lawrence should she not win.

"Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been paid out defending this lawsuit [referring to payments made by Lawrence Utilities to Ice Miller lawyers]. The city will be liable for those fees if they lose," Walker said.

"I'm not a judge, I'm not an attorney. I don't know what the chances are of the city winning or losing this case. But if they lose, it will cost the city a whole lot," he continued.

Cantwell believes the council's concern about legal fees is no reason to drop the case. "Our lawyers are working on a contingency basis. There are expenses associated with the case, but we aren't paying any legal fees until we win," Cantwell said.

Walker and many other members of the Common Council are now attempting to replace Cantwell's authority over the water utility. At the Nov. 1 meeting, members reintroduced an ordinance that would create a separate Water and Sanitary Board made up of council members, removing the utility from the mayor's jurisdiction.

Though it was scheduled for a vote at the Dec. 6 council meeting, it remained in committee. Walker and the council have vowed not to pass the new ordinance without holding public hearings where council members and representatives of Lawrence Utilities can answer public questions.

The first public meeting was cancelled at the request of Ice Miller. Now that Lawrence Utilities is in the process of finding new legal representation, the meeting and subsequent ordinance seem indefinitely on hold. But Cantwell knows the issue isn't dead. "I expect they'll bring it up again after the first of the year," she said.


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