In their two-month quest to acquire attorney John Anderson’s legal bills, Hamilton County commissioners have lobbed sharp criticism at the county’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority for what commissioners say is unnecessary secrecy.
“They have created their kingdom and they don’t want anybody messing with it,” County Commissioner Fred Skillern said. “They don’t want the public, they don’t want the commission and they don’t want their customers knowing what’s going on in their kingdom.”
But authority board Chairman Henry Hoss said he and his board don’t have anything to hide. In hindsight, he probably would have been more open with the commission.
“If I had to go back and do this whole thing again, I probably would have done things a little differently,” he said. “We were not given the appropriate advice. We were given legal advice. We weren’t given political advice.”
Mr. Anderson, who could not be reached for comment, is the authority’s legal adviser.
In 2007, the authority hired the public relations firm, Derryberry PR. The firm’s president, Robin Derryberry, said she has advised the authority to be fully transparent.
“Our advice to the WWTA on these issues has always been consistent: fully comply in a timely manner to the commission’s direct requests for information,” she said.
In October, County Commissioner Curtis Adams requested on behalf of an East Ridge citizens’ group the bills of Mr. Anderson for his authority work . The group was interested in whether Mr. Anderson was charging both East Ridge and the authority for the same work.
Mr. Hoss said that Mr. Anderson has done little work for the authority pertaining to East Ridge’s sewer system.
Commissioners have pointedly called the authority secretive because the legal bills the board initially provided were heavily redacted.
According to those redacted bills, the authority paid about $73,000 to Mr. Anderson in 10 months between July 2007 and June 2008. Bills from August 2007 and April 2008 were not included.
Later versions of the bills had fewer redacted items, but did not show a line-by-line accounting of how much Mr. Anderson worked and was paid.
Mr. Adams said the redacted bills “rouse suspicion.”
Commissioner John Allen Brooks directed criticism directly to Mr. Hoss.
“I have been greatly disturbed in the lack of cooperation with you and your board,” Mr. Brooks wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Mr. Hoss. “As you might note, the commission as a whole has taken a very dim view of the secrecy and lack of transparency in how you and the WWTA board operates.”
Mr. Hoss said the authority’s board got caught in the middle of Mr. Adams’ inquiry about Mr. Anderson.
“Our reaction was to protect ourselves,” he said.
When the authority first provided copies of Mr. Anderson’s bills, the board agreed to redact the documents to protect its attorney-client privilege. Mr. Hoss said he believes it’s still important to protect that privilege, but said the board should have been more open with Mr. Adams on items that weren’t pending litigation.
Mr. Hoss said Mr. Anderson’s law firm is working on putting together detailed bills for the commission’s review. He said the firm is doing so at no cost to the authority.
The commission’s deadline for the bills is Wednesday. Mr. Hoss said he did not commit to have the bills by then, but said he would try to have them ready.