People attending Monday night’s meeting of the Vermillion City Council or watching the proceeding from the televised stream from Vermillion City Hall learned that James McCulloch, a Vermillion lawyer who served as city attorney for several years, has died.

“Sadly, Mr. McCulloch passed away on Sept. 25, 2021,” Mayor Kelsey Collier-Wise said. “The city was notified today that as Mr. McCulloch was sole proprietor, his sole proprietorship expired at the end of September.”

Shortly after the announcement, the city council unanimously agreed to appoint Brent Matter, an attorney that works in the McCulloch Law Office in Vermillion, as Vermillion’s new city attorney.

According to the McCulloch Law Office website, the Vermillion attorney was a graduate of the University of South Dakota's Law School and been practicing law in Vermillion for over 40 years. He established the McCulloch Law Office, located at 12 Church Street in Vermillion’s old Carnegie Library building, in 1999.

The mayor noted that McCulloch served as Vermillion’s city attorney for nearly 20 years.

“Jim had an encyclopedic knowledge of the city codes and state statutes that was of tremendous benefit,” she said. “Jim was a staunch defender of the city in court and in all other legal matters. He was a reputable legal mind in municipal matters who had the ability to distill complex issues down to one or two legal matters that were going to decide the issue.”

McCulloch served as both city attorney and the attorney for the school district. Health issues kept him from attending both city council and Vermillion School Board meetings early last month and both the city council and the school board approved appointing McCulloch Law Office as their respective attorneys rather than McCulloch individually, as has been both government bodies’ practice for nearly two decades.

Meetings of the city council and Vermillion School Board held during the past month have been attended by Matter rather than McCulloch as Matter is associated with the McCulloch Law Office.

“Jim was a quiet leader for the city who provided exceptional legal guidance that helped Vermillion grow into the community we enjoy today,” Collier-Wise said. “Brent Matter has been working in Jim’s office and has been assisting city staff with some questions that have arisen over the last year.”

The mayor said Matter is willing to serve as city attorney.

“In the interim and with Brent’s knowledge of current legal matters, he would seem to be in the best position to serve the city with legal questions,” she said. “For financial consideration, legal services for the city are typically charged to the professional services line item in the general government budget.

“Legal services are billed at an hourly amount and vary from year to year,” Collier-Wise said. “In 2020, the city had just under $25,900 in legal services with McCulloch Law Office. Administration recommends adopting a motion naming Brent Matter as city attorney at this time.”

“I think we should also make it clear to the public that we are going to be reconsidering this in July,” Alderman Steve Ward said.

“At our reorganizational meeting in July is when we would appoint the city attorney, so should someone else be interested or if Mr. Matter decides he does not want to continue … we do reconsider this at the same time that we appoint our finance officer and our newspaper and a bunch of other things that we appoint at those July meetings,” the mayor said.

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