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Council clears way for possible future lawsuits against opioid producers

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By Sean Kennedy

 What's new with your tax dollars? City council met most recently Feb. 5, and here's the latest on the projects and planning happening around town.

 

City retains special legal counsel, greenlights potential litigation against pharmaceutical companies

Brighton council members voted to clear the way for the city to explore joining litigation against a number of pharmaceutical companies and opioid producers. Per city attorney Jack Bajorek, city management has been considering filing litigation for several months, which would join the city with many cities and counties across Colorado.

Bajorek claims that more than 1,500 cases are pending in multidistrict, litigation-consolidating lawsuits on behalf of cities, counties, and other plaintiffs throughout the country. For example, in one lawsuit provided to the Blade by Bajorek, the counties of Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Fremont, Larimer and Teller filed a joint complaint with the cities of Aurora, Black Hawk, Boulder, Broomfield, Commerce City, Denver, Hudson, Northglenn and Westminster against more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies, including Johnson & Johnson.

Brighton officials have yet to file suit, so it can’t be said what their complaints may entail. However, similar lawsuits filed by Brighton’s legal counsel, Keller Rohrback and Reilly Pozner, accuse several pharmaceutical companies of knowingly supplying dangerous quantities of opioids while advocating for limited government oversight, aggressively marketing opioids to drive prescriptions through prominent physicians and sales representatives and intentionally misrepresenting their drugs to doctors, patients and regulators. The similar suits seek relief on the grounds of violations of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, public nuisance, negligence, gross negligence, unjust enrichment, fraud and deceit, civil conspiracy and violations of the racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO) Act, arguing that said violations have substantially affected the plaintiff cities’ and counties’ health, police, parks and homelessness-related expenditures.

Bajorek said that city officials felt compelled to ensure Brighton’s voice was heard in the opioid litigation as more compelling facts come to light about the potential liability of opioid manufacturers and distributors. Brighton will draft and file a complaint that officials anticipate will join over 1,500 similar lawsuits that have been consolidated in Ohio federal court.

The lawsuit is not expected to cost the city any money, as Brighton and other Colorado plaintiffs (other cities and counties) will seek to recover court costs from the defendants in the litigation. Bajorek said the attorneys’ fees are contingent on the outcome, meaning that the City will only pay attorneys’ fees if the city recovers funds as a result of the opioid litigation.

 

City shuffles general, utilities funds to give raise to 55 employees

Council voted to appropriate just under $97,000 in the 2019 budget to pay for raises for approximately 55 city employees, or about 8 percent of all full-time, part-time and seasonal employees.

The raises in questions are in fact a one-time, supplemental pay equivalent to 2 percent of an employee’s base pay for employees who are at the maximum pay range for their positions. For city employees who reach their maximum salary during the fiscal year 2019, the supplemental appropriation will include the remaining amount of the 2 percent increase above the maximum pay range. For example, an employee who is 1 percent away from reaching their maximum salary will receive the first 1 percent increase as a salary increase and the remaining 1 percent as a one-time supplemental payment.

Additionally, city employees who are still below their maximum pay range will receive a raise between 3 percent and 5 percent after their anniversary date with the city government in 2019. These raises were already accounted for in the original 2019 budget.

This supplemental appropriation will increase the use of fund balance in the general fund from approximately $448,000 to $536,000. Other fund’s balances, such as those relating to utility services, will also be utilized to account for the appropriation, but only to minor amounts.

 

City digital storage servers to be updated

Councilors approved an expense of just under $241,000 to update and reinforce the city’s storage servers and backup capabilities for its digital infrastructure. The city’s senior system administrator, Shawn Thomas, testified that the city’s information technology infrastructure is near the end of its useful life and that the new upgrades should last several years. He said that the installation of the new hardware should be completed by August. The funding request is part of the city budget for 2019.

 

Local centenarians honored

City council took a moment early in its meeting to honor Fujiyo Tashiro and Trudy Fike, two local women who recently celebrated their 100th birthdays. Mayor Ken Kreutzer remarked that both women had made invaluable contributions to Brighton’s history.  

 

Council passes usage policies for city computers

Council approved a resolution approving new information technology policy for the use of city computers. Per the city’s IT staff, the policy change is an amendment to existing IT policy that Council adopted back in 2015.

 

Councilman survives cancer scare

Near the end of the meeting, councilman Mark Humbert told a cautionary story to citizens. Humbert, 66, revealed that doctors had recently discovered a cancerous growth in his body after the councilman got his first colonoscopy, a routine medical check for men ages 50 and older. Luckily, Humbert was able to get the cancer removed and reported that there are no signs of it left in his body. Humbert encouraged citizens not to put off routine health examinations.