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Friday, Dec. 13, 2013 10:32 am

Houston picks corporation counsel

Greenburg had controversial past

Springfield Mayor Mike Houston has chosen J. Todd Greenburg to be the city’s next corporation counsel.

Greenburg, former city attorney for the city of Bloomington, comes with controversy.

He was placed on administrative leave in October for undisclosed reasons and ultimately left the city’s employ. He and the Bloomington mayor had clashed over disclosure of public records,  particularly within the city’s police department, with Greenburg favoring keeping records secret. After the attorney general’s office last summer ordered  a police disciplinary file disclosed pursuant to the state Freedom of Information Act, Greenburg recommended that the city take the matter to court in an effort to get a judge to overrule the attorney general.

The Springfield Police Department has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, mostly successful, aimed at opening police disciplinary files. The city is now facing a lawsuit for shredding police internal affairs files that had been requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Mayor Houston would not say how many other candidates were considered. Greenburg, he noted, was city attorney for Bloomington for more than 20 years and has 30 years of experience working as a municipal attorney.

"I think that we're very, very fortunate to find somebody that has the background and experience that he has and is willing to come to the city of Springfield," Houston said. "He was by far our best candidate."

Houston said he spoke with Greenburg about the circumstances behind him being placed on administrative leave and subsequent his departure from the city of Bloomington.

"There was basically a disagreement between him and the mayor of Bloomington," Houston said.

What sort of disagreement?

"They have a confidential agreement between Mr. Greenburg and the city of Bloomington," Houston said. "I can't get into that specifically."

Houston said that he did not speak with Bloomington mayor Tari Renner, who took office last spring, before offering the job to Greenburg.

"I didn't see any reason to," Houston said.

Greenburg is expected to start work on Jan. 15, Houston said. He must be confirmed by the city council. Houston has proposed paying him $125,000. The prior corporation counsel, Mark Cullen, was paid $107,527 as of July 26, 2012, according to data from the City of Springfield website.  He resigned last summer in the wake of criticism over the shredding of police files.

Greenburg could not be reached for comment..

Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards said that he hasn't had a chance to review Greenburg's background. He said that Houston has provided aldermen with what appears to be a letter of recommendation from the city of Bloomington's personnel department. The council, Edwards said, should know the circumstances behind Greenburg's administrative leave and departure from Bloomington's employ.

Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin said he doesn't know enough about Greenburg to decide whether he will vote in favor of confirmation.

"It's too early for me to have an opinion," McMenamin said.

Noting that Houston's term as mayor expires in less than two years, Edwards said that the corporation counsel position would be difficult for anyone.

"My thought is, why would a guy want to put himself in that position knowing that there's only 13 or 14 or 15 months left in the administration," Edwards said. "I think it's a tough position to put anybody in."

What if Houston runs and wins another term?

"That's a pretty big if," Edwards said.

Acting corporation counsel John Mehlick has resigned effective Saturday. Houston said he intends to name an acting corporation counsel today to fill the job until Greenburg joins the payroll, but the mayor would not say who he will pick.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com

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