published Friday, March 11th, 2011

East Ridge attorney keeps job


by Chris Carroll

HOW THEY VOTED

Motion to terminate City Attorney John Anderson

Councilman Jim Bethune — Yes

Councilman Darwin Branam — No

Mayor Brent Lambert — No

Councilman Denny Manning — Yes

Vice Mayor Larry Sewell — No

More than once, East Ridge Councilman Darwin Branam made it clear that City Attorney John Anderson’s invoices didn’t amount to “an emergency.”

First, he missed a heated Feb. 28 meeting on the topic as he admired the beachfront views from his second residence — a 24th-floor condominium in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla. — leading to a 2-2 deadlock on whether to terminate Anderson and cease paying his already-over-budget attorney’s fees.

Then, after telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press he needed “more information” on how to vote, Branam did not return to East Ridge City Hall until he flew into town Thursday afternoon, four hours before he broke the tie.

As part of $427,726 paid over the last 34 months, Anderson has collected $90,383 in the first six months of the current fiscal year — $383 more than East Ridge allocated for the entire year, which doesn’t end until June 30.

Reading from a prepared statement Thursday evening, Branam assured residents he would attend regular council meetings and special called meetings “if they’re emergency in nature.”

He said he missed the Feb. 28 meeting about Anderson because it “wasn’t emergency.”

Later he joined Mayor Brent Lambert and Vice Mayor Larry Sewell in denying a motion to fire Anderson based on fees Councilmen Jim Bethune and Denny Manning called “out of line.”

In defending Anderson, Branam echoed Lambert, who recently pointed the finger at himself and other councilmen who voted to hire the attorney in the first place.

While Anderson has billed East Ridge for parking, phone calls, postage and meals, councilmen have complied with his hourly rates since they hired him part-time in 2008.

“The previous council determined that several projects should be undertaken for the betterment of East Ridge,” Branam said. “To terminate anyone who holds an essential position in the city without a workable plan ... would be irresponsible.”

Anderson remained silent during the discussion of his contract.

On Feb. 28, Bethune offered to withdraw his motion to terminate if Anderson agreed to stop taking fees for the rest of the fiscal year.

The attorney never addressed Bethune’s proposal during that meeting, declined to comment when a reporter asked about it afterward and never discussed it during Thursday night’s meeting.

“He should have answered one way or the other,” Bethune said.

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hadassah said...

Well Mr. Branam you have succeeded in staying out of East Ridge and out of touch for the last two weeks and now with your obviously uninformed decision to keep John Anderson you have not only let the citizens down but have given someone prone to gouge the City over fees a blank check book to do as he pleases.

My predicition is that John Anderson will leave East Ridge as the City Attorney but only after the Council has allowed him to suck the City dry. Then, when there is no money left, he will gladly leave the post.

March 11, 2011 at 6:48 a.m.
harrystatel said...

"after telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press he [Branam] needed “more information” on how to vote."

Mr. Branam, does Mr. Sewell and Mayor Lambert come to your house to lay out your clothes, feed you pablum, burp you, help you go potty, then fasten your big-boy pull-ups for you as well? Yes? That's what I thought.

March 11, 2011 at 6:42 p.m.
bpqd said...

It would be helpful if someone could describe just what East Ridge residents got for this $90,000. At what rate did this attorney bill?

Hypothetically, if this attorney charged at $125 an hour, he would have had to work nonstop 40 hour weeks for 18 weeks, four and a half months, in order to rack up $90K in fees.

While we haven't heard at what rate he charged, still: what did he provide for that $90,000? It's not like a landmark trial involving the City of East Ridge was taking place. Instead, it seems as though the City was in need of routine advice; the entire city simply doesn't employ enough personnel engaged in litigious or controversial actions to require constant, full time, legal support.

Even if every police office was sued for excessive force; even if every civil project was contested by local homeowners; even if the city was engaged in extensive collection actions against criminals operating drug labs to compensate for HAZMAT cleanups of meth labs; still: we don't see what it is that required $90K in legal services.

It's not impossible that the City of East Ridge did, in fact, need a lawyer. The reflexive and habitual firings of city managers and accountants alone would imply that. Yet, we don't see what we got for that $90K in money.

There should be a bill somewhere that's a matter of public record. Somehow, we must have been told what that $90K was for.

What was it for? Specify.

Until we know what the $90,000 was for, we can't properly evaluate the response of the votes listed in the story above. Was the $90,000 worth it or not? Then, were votes to fire someone over that $90K bill right or not? All of this is dependent upon an Owner's Equity oriented view of the bill and the services rendered.

What services were provided for that $90,000?

March 11, 2011 at 7:39 p.m.
mthompson332 said...

Does it really matter? He's charging for sh*t like parking, meals and postage. Somewhere, litigation, meetings, etc., are in there too. Either way...$90,000 for any hack with a law degree is way too much.

March 11, 2011 at 8:16 p.m.
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