By Monroe Roark
Regardless of which side wins
in Stockbridge’s various legal entanglements, if the past two months
are any indication it will cost taxpayers considerably more to find
out than was originally planned.
The firm that now represents
the city, Fincher Denmark Williams & Minnifield, has billed
$95,771.78 for the first two months of 2014. The Times received a
copy of the bill submitted by city attorney Michael Williams to Hugh
Austin, executive assistant to Mayor Tim Thompson.
The invoice shows a charge
for February of $51,739.97 and a previous balance of $44,031.81 for
January, when the firm came on board.
The City Council voted Jan. 3
to retain FDW&M and replace the previous firm of Freeman Mathis &
Gary. The vote was 3-0, with council members Robin Buschman and
Richard Steinberg absent.
The 2014 budget approved by
the council allots $150,000 for legal fees for the entire year,
although that can be amended whenever the council sees fit. Last
year the city spent $250,000 on legal fees to its regular attorney
as well as others for such matters as local option sales tax
negotiations, according to city treasurer Mike Bush.
The latest invoice reflects a
rate of $180 per hour, which is a 20-percent increase from the $150
per hour billed by the previous firm.
By comparison, Henry County’s
legal budget for the current fiscal year is $450,241. That covers
in-house county attorney LaTonya Wiley and two legal assistants.
Wiley said she farms out cases to outside counsel where needed due
to volume and time constraints, but that is paid out of her budget
as well. The county’s legal insurance deductible for certain cases
is $50,000 and that comes out of the county’s general fund.
Stockbridge has spent nearly
$31,600 in two months on legal services in connection to the
Downtown Development Authority and World Internet Group, Williams
noted in the letter to the city that accompanied the invoice.
As reported here previously,
the city’s current legal position is that the DDA was reassembled
improperly in 2013 and does not legally exist. The DDA filed a court
petition to clarify that issue, and the city filed suit in response
“Approximately 61 percent of
the hours billed are legal work related to the Downtown Development
Authority and World Internet Group which would not have been
required but for the ongoing dispute,” Williams wrote.
A total of $1,600.50 was
incurred relating to three separate legal matters involving former
mayor Lee Stuart – two involving action in Henry County Superior
Court and one with the Court of Appeals.
In addition to $2,808 for Planning and Zoning
matters, there is $890 for personnel matters, $448 of which relates
to an EEOC charge. The remaining $14,896.97 lies under the heading