Audio: Hamilton County Commission -- Nov. 05, 2008
The Hamilton County Commission voted Wednesday to wait two more weeks before deciding whether to demand documents from the county’s Water and Wastewater Treament Authority.
“I would hope that we could settle this without the attorney general or without going to court,” said Commissioner Bill Hullander.
Commissioner Curtis Adams last week brought a resolution to the commission that would require the authority to hand over documentation of legal fees paid to attorney John Anderson, who also is the East Ridge city attorney. If the authority does not give the commission the information, the resolution would authorize county Attorney Rheubin Taylor to take the authority to court.
Authority board Chairman Henry Hoss said he would check with board members about meeting one-on-one with commissioners to discuss the documents or provide them.
If the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority and the Hamilton County Commission fail to come to an agreement over the legal bills, the commission will vote in two weeks to force the authority to hand over the documents.
Commissioner John Allen Brooks said he didn’t want to meet with Mr. Hoss, he simply wanted the records.
“We have a right to the information,” he said.
Questions about Mr. Anderson’s legal fees arose when some East Ridge residents sought details about his compensation for his duties as a part-time attorney for the city. According to invoices for services from February through September, Mr. Anderson charged the city of East Ridge $96,584.87, an amount East Ridge resident Colleen O’Shaughnessy said the city can’t afford.
“It’s ludicrous. Absolutely ludicrous,” she said. “A city of this size and some of the things he’s been paid for, it’s ludicrous.”
By comparison, Randall Nelson, full-time attorney for the city of Chattanooga will receive $117,516.78 this year, according to the city; Mr. Taylor will receive $143,099, according to county personnel records.
Sensitivity to Mr. Anderson’s fees was made even more pronounced by the recent East Ridge 21-cent property tax increase, which included an $35,000 increase in the budget for legal services from $80,000 to $115,000. At the current rate, Mr. Anderson is outpacing even that raise, Ms. O’Shaughnessy said.
“I’d like to see him replaced with someone who’s willing to work for the good of the city,” she said. “I think this is the good-old-boys club and it’s time for that to stop.”
Mr. Anderson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Mr. Adams received a document a few weeks ago that showed the amount of the fees, but had the reasons for those fees blacked out.
Mr. Adams criticized the authority for hiring the Nashville-based law firm of Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis LLP, which wrote a letter to Mr. Taylor stating the redacted reasons were protected under attorney-client privilege.
“For the first time since I have been a commissioner, I have been sent a letter from an outside law firm,” Mr. Adams said. “I feel that was sort of an insult to our intelligence.”
Mr. Hoss said providing information that could be protected under attorney-client privilege could mean the authority has waived that right.
“We’re backed into a corner,” he said.
But Mr. Taylor argued the short reasons for the fees given in the bills, which likely just note conversations between Mr. Anderson and the authority, aren’t protected.
“The content of the conversation is not contained in the documentation,” he said.