Written by Publisher, Wakulla.com Wednesday, 21 March 2007 04:37
Commissioners Question Amount of Money Spent on Legal Fees
During the Commissioner's Discussion Issues portion of the March 19, 2007 regular meeting of the Wakulla County Board of County Commissioners, Commissioner Ed Brimner noted that the Tallahassee sprayfield litigation had for all practical purposes ended. "There was a settlement agreement that was signed by all the partiies concerned," said Brimner. "It has been signed now for a month. Yet I continue to see bills coming in referencing the sprayfield and the settlement." Brimner noted that when the decision was made to sue the City of Tallahassee over the sprayfield, the commission agreed that the issue was outside the process of everyday government, which would therefore cost Wakulla County more than the normal monthly salary already paid to County Attorney Ron Mowrey. "But once we win we need to quit paying," noted Brimner. "I think any follow-up should be part of the attorney's regular fees. We need to close the checkbook on the sprayfield settlement; we won."
Commission Chairman Brian Langston asked about the continuing items that have to be done regarding the sprayfield settlement.
Commissioner Brimner responded that Wakulla County is paying the county attorney $11,000 a month, and that he felt the continuing items should be included in the attorney's regular salary.
Commissioner Howard Kessler noted that he had asked the county clerk to go through and pull billings for Mowrey for the past year and a half. "The total comes to over a half million dollars for just a year and a half," said Kessler. Kessler noted that Commissioner Brimner had just handed him documentation with a very similar figure during the meeting.
Commissioner Maxie Lawhon commented that the figures in question were numbers that had been agreed upon by the commissioners at the time Mowrey's contract was renewed.
Commissioner Kessler responded that it was "ludicrous" that a county of 29,000 residents had paid out over $500,000 in attorney's fees for an 18 month time period. "The sprayfield litigation has cost us approximately $123,000 in a matter of months," said Kessler. "If we are all in this together and if we are looking to make an efficient government, then we have to get a handle on our attorney fees. This seems like a situation where an in-house attorney might be a better option." Commissioner Lawhon said he felt the attorney was being attacked personally, but Kessler responded that this was not an attack, and that the regular board meeting was the only venue to discuss these types of issues as a commission.
Discussion then ensued between Commissioners Kessler and Langston and County Administrator Ben Pingree about what could be brought up during the Commissioner's Discussion Issues portion of the meeting, and whether or not this was an appropriate item for this segment of the meeting. Chairman Langston suggested that it would be better to bring the issue up as a regular agenda item at an upcoming meeting.
Commissioner Brimner commented that he felt the commissioners were still learning how to interpret the new meeting layout. He noted that he also had documentation that broke down the county attorney's costs for the past 17 months and that his figures were also over half a million dollars. "I am suggesting that it is time to ask our staff to look at the possibility of getting a full-time attorney on staff," said Brimner. "We have a part-time attorney who does good work; but I think there is a chance of saving money and getting things done in a more timely manner if we have someone sitting in the same building as we are." Commissioner Brimner then asked staff to look at what it would cost to have a full-time attorney and a legal assistant on staff.
County Attorney Ron Mowrey stated that his contract had been negotiated with fees and costs in mind. "If you want to suggest that we take the litigation out we can," said Mowrey. "Our fees are extremely reasonable and the services we provide on the monthly retainer are way, way over what is expected."
This article originally published on March 21, 2007.
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