Friday, May 13, 2011

Midway keeps city attorney Phil Moloney busy

By Clark Brooks
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

When Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth took office in 2007, he had a difficult decision to make, with City Attorney Joe Hoffman set to retire.

Attorney Phil Moloney sits at the right
of the mayor during council meetings.
(Photo by Hongchul Yun)
Bozarth needed to find a replacement who could help guide and advise the city’s government on legal matters. Enter Phil Moloney, a Lexington-based lawyer who specialized in municipal and public-entity law. “I had known Phil for a very long time,” Bozarth said. “When we discussed the possibility of him being our city attorney, I knew he had a good personality for the job.”

The rest is history, as Moloney was approved by the city council to be the city’s next attorney.

“I had known a fair amount about Midway before I took the job,” Moloney said in a recent interview. “My cousin and mother’s family had lived in Midway so I knew the extent of the community’s interests.”

However, the community didn’t warm up to Moloney as he may have expected, because not only was he the city’s most expensive employee in hourly terms, at $145 per hour, he was also an out-of-towner, and figured in a seminal controversy.

Moloney and some Midway citizens found themselves at odds in 2009 over insurance for volunteer workers on city property. Volunteers who wished to help out around town and operate equipment could simply meet and perform the task they deemed necessary to be done, and if someone was hurt during volunteer work, they couldn’t be compensated by the city’s insurance.

That put the city at risk, warned its insurance carrier, the Kentucky League of Cities. Moloney advised the city council during several meetings to pass an ordinance allowing the city to require volunteers to sign liability waivers, in case an individual might be injured or harmed while volunteering about town. Though the change was subtle and made little change in how volunteers operated, some volunteers, most notably those involved in Midway Renaissance, felt the waivers still were unnecessary and arbitrarily filled the volunteer process with red tape.

“It is easy for people to criticize him,” Bozarth said of Moloney. “But he is a good person with a big heart and tries to always have the city’s best interests at heart. He doesn’t decide how to run Midway; that’s on myself and the rest of the (city) council.”

Moloney said he was prepared for a possible backlash. “I have represented small towns before and I knew the potential polarization some issues would cause,” he said. “I’m just here to advise the council and the mayor on what I feel is the best legal advice for certain situations in order to help the city.”

Moloney is on retainer for his services, meaning when the city needs legal guidance, the mayor, city clerk, or council members contact Moloney, who is then paid for the time he spends helping Midway.
“It’s similar to a cell phone bill,” Bozarth said. “We as a city have a certain amount of allotted time with him before we have to pay him for extra services.”

“I do not initiate the advice,” Moloney said. “I am here to serve as they need my services.”

Over the past few years, Midway has kept its city attorney very busy. From dealing with the such issues as zoning and the failed industrial park of Midway Station, Moloney has spent a great deal of time helping the mayor and city council.

The city has paid Moloney an average of $29,030 over the past four fiscal years for his services compared to the average $15,006 Hoffman was paid over his last two fiscal years on the job.

“He has certainly dealt with a great deal of issues in the last for year for a small town,” Bozarth said. “But, he has handled in all in stride very well.”

Moloney’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed across the state either. Since 2007, he has been named one of Kentucky’s Super Lawyers each year by superlawyers.com.

“He is certainly an asset for us,” Bozarth said. “He is very important and helpful to help guide and direct the council in legal matters.”

Moloney says he has enjoyed his time in Midway and considers it a place with a great deal of potential moving forward, being a great representation of Central Kentucky’s past, present and future. But he did acknowledge there are several challenges for the city on the horizon.

“The issues with the recycling and water system’s future are going to be addressed very soon,” Moloney said. Both have been discussed at council meetings the over the past few months. “Also, if Midway Station gets developed, along with a nursing home and new business to attract people, I feel Midway could be a really special place in the Bluegrass.”

Despite a slight pay decrease for him in the proposed city budget for next fiscal year, Moloney says he is eager to continue working with the mayor and city council.

“Helping the city’s government has absolutely been an enjoyment for me,” he said. “I feel they get along pretty well and always are trying to serve as a unit and make Midway a better place to live.”

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