After months of questions from the Hamilton County Commission, the county’s Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority board voted Wednesday to suspend its contracts with attorney John Anderson.
“We’re trying to cut costs, and we realize (legal fees) is a major expense for us,” said authority board member Wayne Hamill.
The authority also voted to cut ties with legislative lobbyist Bob Rochelle.
The vote tally to oust Mr. Anderson was five in favor of the suspension and six against. But under state law, authority board members’ votes are weighted depending on the population in the areas they represent. So votes by the five county-appointed members count for more than the seven members appointed by local municipalities.
John Anderson became the WWTA’s attorney in 2000. Here are the amounts he charged the authority for his services:
* July 2000-June 2001: $22,817
* July 2001-June 2002: $45,925
* July 2002-June 2003: $44,093
* July 2003-June 2004: $89,631
* July 2004-June 2005: $11,916
* July 2005-June 2006: $23,002
* July 2006-June 2007: $37,126
* July 2007-June 2008: $104,176
Of four county appointees in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, three voted to end Mr. Anderson’s contract, swaying the vote against him.
Earlier Wednesday at the County Commission meeting, Commissioner Richard Casavant argued that the state law setting up the authority’s board is vague and should be clarified. Dr. Casavant, who often has defended the authority, provided commissioners with a copy of the law.
He said it’s not clear just how many people the county-appointed members represent and questioned whether they represent the whole county or just the county’s unincorporated areas.
He said he has asked for a state attorney general’s opinion on the matter.
Other county commissioners have been critical of Mr. Anderson, who charged the authority $104,176 for legal services between July 2007 and June 2008, nearly three times more than he received from the authority between July 2006 and June 2007.
Several board members defended Mr. Anderson’s eight years of service.
“I think John has been nothing but professional,” said Tom Card, who represents East Ridge on the authority board.
Mr. Anderson is also the attorney for the city of East Ridge.
The county attorney’s office will provide legal services for the authority from now on, though it may call on Mr. Anderson for advice in cases in which he has been involved, Mr. Hamill said.
Assistant County Attorney Mary Neill Southerland said she would check with County Attorney Rheubin Taylor to make sure his office could represent the authority.
The vote to oust Mr. Rochelle, a former state senator, was six for ousting him and five against.
According to Mr. Anderson, the authority paid Mr. Rochelle about $25,000 last year.
Cleveland Grimes, the authority’s executive director, suggested that the board could use the county’s lobbyist or the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts’ lobbyist if needed.
The board also voted to keep Derryberry Public Relations as its PR firm after its president, Robin Derryberry, informed the board that she only works and charges when called.
The board also voted to make Phil Smartt its new chairman.