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Conflicting Roles for Null?

Council members question Ann Null's affiliation with national group threatening to sue town.

Among the hundreds of phone calls and e-mails regarding the proposed day-labor site, councilman Steven Mitchell has requested councilwoman Ann Null to disclose her affiliation with Judicial Watch, a national organization threatening to sue the town if it approves a formalized day-labor site in town.

In a letter dated July 28, Mitchell said he received an e-mail from Null stating, "I hope you are aware that Judicial Watch is poised to sue, if the TC [Town Council] votes approval of the Day Labor CUP [conditional use permit], thx Ann."

Because of this e-mail, and the Judicial Watch letter that followed one week later threatening a lawsuit against the town, Mitchell said in his letter he felt "compelled to convey my understandings from previous conversations."

"I recall a conversation we had approximately one week ago during which you advised me that you were part of a group that was successful in having Judicial Watch take your case," he said in the letter. "As a member of the Town Council, you are a client of the Town Attorney. You have now placed yourself in an adversarial position as a member of a group that is threatening future legal action against the Town Council, the very body on which you serve and, therefore, against all the citizens of the Town for whom you serve."

In subsequent e-mails to council members, planning commissioners, town staff and local press representatives, Null stated she was "pleased Judicial Watch approached me, and the Town has the benefit of their legal insights."

In a separate e-mail on Aug. 2, Null said, during the July public hearing on the day-labor site proposal "Chris Farrell of Judicial Watch introduced himself to me."

She did not elaborate on further affiliations with Judicial Watch or answer questions about how her conversations with the national watchdog group could potentially affect her interactions with fellow council members during the council's deliberations on the proposed site.

Tom Fitton, president Judicial Watch, confirmed he contacted Null and spoke with her regarding the proposal.

"I can't see that Ms. [Null] would act in any way but as professionally as she has to date," said Fitton about a potential conflict of interest.

"MS. NULL HAS alienated most members of council prior to this," said Mayor Michael O'Reilly.

At the start of her term one year ago, Null was censured by council for comments she made in a public forum where it was unclear if her comments were representing the Town Council as a whole, or her personal beliefs.

A few months ago Null and her husband were found in violation of the town's zoning ordinance for renting out an apartment above their garage. Under town code, all people living on one property must be related based on specific definitions. The Nulls resolved the violation shortly after being cited.

Because it is not illegal for Null to have conversations with constituents or Judicial Watch pertaining to this issue, no formal action will be taken by the council, said O'Reilly.

But, if the council were to approve a formalized site and Judicial Watch were to pursue litigation against the town, then Richard Kaufman, town attorney, would be consulted to determined if any legal measures should be taken, he said.

"We will be careful, if we get involved in litigation, to maintain confidentiality," he said.

OTHER COUNCIL MEMBERS expressed their dissatisfaction with Null's recent actions via e-mail after receiving Mitchell's letter. Councilwoman Carol Bruce informed Null that her e-mail address would "no longer accept mail from you. I have absolutely no interest in anything that you might have to say."

Councilman Dennis Husch clarified the rights council members have to use the services of the town manager and town attorney. For Kaufman to look into legal matters at the request of council, at least four members must approve the request, he said.

"Right now, you have so alienated yourself from the council; I doubt you could get a 'second' for any of your initiatives," he said in the e-mail.

Council was scheduled to hold a work session Aug. 2 and has planned another special work session Thursday, Aug. 11 to discuss the proposed day-labor site. Public comment is not heard during work sessions.