East Ridge attorney has contract, severance deal

East Ridge attorney has contract, severance deal

February 20th, 2009 by Elizabeth Ryan in Local Regional News

PDF: Anderson agreement

Area cities agreements with their attorneys

* Pay for current fiscal year


Attorney: Mike McMahon (interim)

Contract: None

Retainer: None. He receives a salary, but it hasn't yet been set.

(Former City Attorney Randall Nelson's salary was $117,516/year)

Severance: None

East Ridge

Attorney: John Anderson

Contract: Yes

Retainer: None

Hourly fee: $250

Severance: Three times his monthly salary based on the average previous 12 months billing. (If he were fired today, this would be more than $30,000)


Attorney: Sam Elliott

Contract: None

Retainer: $325 per meeting

* Hourly fee: $140

* How much he was paid from July 1- Dec. 31: $13,488.11 (includes meetings)

* Severance: None

Red Bank

* Attorney: Arnold Stulce Jr.

* Contract: None

* Retainer: $700

* Hourly fee: $140 an hour

* How much he was paid between July 1-Dec. 31: $12,247.75

* Severance: None


* Attorney: Sam Elliott

* Contract: None

* Retainer: $325 per meeting

* Hourly Fee: $140

* How much he was paid from July 1-Dec. 31: $6,398.33

* Severance: None

Signal Mountain

* Attorney: Phil Noblett

* Contract: None

* Retainer: $2,970 per month (covers 27 hours of work)

* Hourly fee: $110

How much paid from July 1-Dec. 31 2008: $22,636.90

Severance: None

Compiled by Elizabeth Ryan and Cliff Hightower

Source: Cities' records

Part-time East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson has something the attorneys for Hamilton County's other cities don't have - a contract and a severance package.

Mr. Anderson, who has been East Ridge's attorney for 11 months, billed the city $125,354 in that time, city records show. If he stepped down today, he would walk away with more than $30,000 in severance, according to a clause in his contract, which he also wrote.

Dennis Huffer, executive director of the Tennessee Municipal Attorneys Association, which has more than 100 member cities, said he was unaware of any other city that had a contract for their city attorney, much less a severance clause.

"I don't think that I've ever heard of an attorney that had that kind of contract or provision in a contract like that," he said. "Normally, an attorney can be hired or fired by the client at will. I think most attorneys just accept that's one of the hazards of the job."

In Hamilton County, most city attorneys serve at the pleasure of the council, receive a retainer for public meetings and charge an hourly rate for litigation and other services.

Arnold Stulce Jr., who represents Red Bank, said he considers his municipal client the same as any other.

"I'm not an employee. I'm a retained attorney. And I don't know of any retained attorney who gets a severance when their services are no longer required," Mr. Stulce said. "If they don't want me to work for them, then they either tell me they don't want me to work for them ... or they don't call me the next time they have need for an attorney and they call someone else."

If fired or asked to resign from East Ridge, Mr. Anderson will receive three times his average monthly billing based on the preceding 12 months.

Questions over Mr. Anderson's fees arose last fall when some East Ridge citizens sought details about how he billed his time as both attorney for the city and for the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority. Citing the high cost of legal fees, the WWTA fired Mr. Anderson last month, but East Ridge City Council members have said they will not follow suit.

East Ridge resident Chuck Mehan said Mr. Anderson's contract remains a contentious issue.

After replacing interim City Attorney Michael Stewart last February, Mr. Anderson wrote his own contract and charged the city $570.58 to do so, records show, an act Mr. Mehan called "outrageous."

"A man writes his own contract and then puts clauses in there that, if he's released, he'll get paid 300 percent of his salary?" he said.

Mr. Anderson said he wrote his contract at the request of the City Council, and based it on the agreements the city previously negotiated with former attorney Cris Helton and Mr. Stewart's firm, Chambliss, Bahner, Stophel, P.C.

Unlike Mr. Helton, who received an annual retainer of about $50,000, Mr. Anderson charges the city an hourly rate of $250 for all his services, including council meetings.

According to East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele, who signed Mr. Anderson's contract, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service recommended the hourly rate agreement because that was the direction cities across the state were taking.

"When we started this discussion, John offered to do it on a retainer," Mr. Steele said. "We decided to go on a per-hour because we had established that with Chambliss, Bahner, Stophel P.C."

But Sid Hemsley, a legal consultant with MTAS, said the agency was not well-versed on the agreements between cities and their attorneys and could not offer comment.

Mr. Helton's contract also included a severance clause, but was based on his monthly base retainer at a rate of $4,166.67. Mr. Helton was let go in July 2007 and the council paid his severance in January 2009.

Mr. Steele said the council likely will review all city contracts over the next few months, but defended the decision to ask Mr. Anderson to sign a contract.

"In hindsight, maybe we should have said, 'Hey, let's do something different,'" he said. "(But) it's just something East Ridge has always done."