The Driggs City Council learned on Feb. 2 that longtime city attorney Stephen Zollinger, who had planned to retire in January of 2022, is willing to stay on as Driggs’s legal counsel until summer of 2022 if necessary.
Zollinger moved to eastern Idaho from Utah to work part-time for the City of Rexburg and run a private practice. Rexburg, he said, gradually bought him out of his private clients as the young city grew. Now he only represents Island Park, Rexburg, a hospital, and Driggs. The city attorneys of Victor and Tetonia both have private practices, while the county prosecutor holds an elected position as Teton County’s legal counsel.
The city council and staff had been planning to begin the search for Zollinger’s replacement, and budgeting for the new hire, this year. Zollinger told them Tuesday that he thought, with the possibly drastic changes to the make-up of city government that will happen next January (the mayor’s seat and three city council seats will be up for election this November), that he should stick around a little longer to help the city ease through the transition.
Plus, he said, with Covid forcing him to work mostly from home, “my wife tells me she’s not very comfortable with the way I behave when I’m not at work.”
Zollinger told the council he wanted to help Driggs recruit his replacement and emphasized the importance of finding the right lawyer.
“There’s a vast difference between a government attorney and an attorney willing to work for government.” He said Driggs is experiencing the kind of growth that will necessitate “a more robust legal representation,” including at the statehouse in Boise. “Throw this out to the world and you will get great lawyers who will not understand what representing a city in Idaho is going to do for them. Government law is not the same as corporate practice or transactional practice. It does require a unique ability to understand what Idaho legislators can and often do impose upon us.”
He added that there was a possibility during the search of finding an attorney who could represent the three cities in the valley, or recruiting another attorney who worked primarily for a larger government in the region.
“In the 20 or 21 years I have worked for Driggs, you have never spent a dime on sending me to training or sending me to any of the meetings that represent government, because I happen to work for a slightly larger city who builds that into their budget,” he said. “You haven’t borne much of the cost of hiring an attorney. It’s going to be a budget jolt to find a true municipal attorney unless you are willing to look for someone who works for other governmental entities.”
While the Driggs mayor suggested moving the recruitment process until after the city approves its 2022 budget, Councilwoman August Christensen disagreed, saying, “I feel it’s prudent to not wait until the last minute to start the search and then get into a situation.”
Zollinger told the council he “wouldn’t leave the city in a lurch,” and was willing to stick around until the right person was found.