published Thursday, March 14th, 2013

East Ridge gives interim city attorney a raise

The East Ridge City Council extended its agreement with its interim city attorney and gave him a raise Thursday night.

Hal North will continue to serve as the city attorney through June 30, when East Ridge releases its next budget. North will make $10,000 a month going forward, $3,500 more per month than he made his first 90 days in the position. His original agreement with the city was set to expire Friday.

North said during the City Council meeting Thursday that he couldn’t justify working for East Ridge for $7,500. His workload is too heavy.

He said he and some members of his firm — Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel — are working on six lawsuits for the city. Also, East Ridge wants to turn one of its soccer programs into a nonprofit organization. And almost every day, North said, some sort of employment issue arises.

“There’s always something, it seems, driving us crazy,” he said. “I am not in a position, and my firm is not in the position, to continue under the $7,500 a month retainer.”

Should North remain with the city beyond June 30, he said he might be able to do so at a cheaper rate. Maybe the current workload is an anomaly. Maybe the job isn’t as demanding as it has been the past 90 days. North didn’t seem to know Thursday, and neither did the other councilmen — at least, they didn’t say anything.

Under this current agreement, the city can replace North with another attorney at any point in the next three months. Likewise, North can walk away. Nobody is committing.

“Y’all can decide to fire me in the meantime,” North said, joking, “or I can decide to fire you.”

“That’s what we’re afraid of,” Councilman Marc Gravitt said.

The council approved this agreement 3-0 on Thursday. Mayor Brent Lambert was absent because of a family emergency, and Councilman Larry Sewell abstained. He argued that $10,000 a month was too much, especially after the council fired former City Attorney John Anderson because of a contract dispute.

“We were looking to get somebody cheaper,” said Sewell, who was otherwise silent throughout Thursday’s two-hour meeting. “I understand we were paying Mr. Anderson the same amount we’re paying (North).”

In fact, Anderson made $7,500 a month, but he also charged a separate fee for litigation. During the 2010-11 financial year, the city paid Anderson about $158,000 — or about $13,000 a month.

North does not get anything from the city beyond his monthly salary.

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