Residents waiting for the newly seated Cedar Lake Town Council to enact the types of changes promised on the campaign trail may be slow in coming.
A motion Tuesday to remove attorney David Austgen with Austgen, Kuiper and Jasaitis P.C. as attorney for the plan commission, board of zoning appeals and safety board made by new Councilwoman Mary Joan Dickson, the lone Democrat on the panel, died for a lack of a second.
Dickson made the motion due to conflict of interest, she said. The firm through one of its attorneys represents LBL Development, which has projects before those various boards and commissions.
Councilman Greg Parker, R-5, questioned the conflict. He said he did not see a conflict since Austgen himself was not representing LBL.
Councilman Richard Thiel, R-At Large, said he too was concerned about the potential conflict of interest.
Thiel said it would be wiser to have different legal counsel for the safety board instead of the same counsel across the board. He said the potential conflict of interest was “brought to my attention by from one of the commissioners themselves.”
A motion to approve the contract for Austgen as presented, an extension of the 2023 deal, was made by Councilman Chuck Becker, R-4, and seconded by Parker. The motion passed 5-2 with Dickson and Thiel voting against the measure.
Dickson Wednesday said she stands by her belief that having Austgen represent the town and his firm represent a developer who does business in town is a conflict of interest even though different attorneys are involved.
She said Austgen’s knowledge of the workings of the planning department, the plan commission and the BZA could create a potential advantage for clients looking to do business with the town.
“I just think it’s a total conflict of interest. You can’t be part of planning, the planning department, planning division and not have that be a conflict with the client you have,” Dickson said.
Parker Wednesday said he was reluctant to comment on the status of the Austgen contract due to potential liability over the tabled LBL developments.
“I don’t think that Mr. Austgen, based on the current situation, has a conflict because there is another attorney handling those items,” Parker said.
He said that as far as attorneys go, someone talking to an attorney can create a perceived conflicts. He said the new council has a lot of work in front of it and he would like more information before making decisions.
“We are 23 days in. We’re looking at a whole lot of stuff … We’re working on formulating a priority list of what’s important. We’ve had a lot of dialogue, a lot of ideas. We’re trying to be cautious and really take into consideration our responsibility to the community,” Parker said.