Some East Ridge residents question billed legal fees

Some East Ridge residents question billed legal fees

February 23rd, 2009 by Elizabeth Ryan in News


Attorney fees per meeting for Hamilton County cities

* Collegedale: $325 per meeting

* Red Bank: $700 monthly retainer (includes two city council meetings)

* Soddy-Daisy: $325 per meeting

* Signal Mountain: covered by $2,970 monthly retainer (for 27 hours of work)

* East Ridge: $1,573.29 per month (based on average billings for City Council meetings Feb. 2008-Dec. 31, 2008)

Source: Sam Elliott, Arnold Stulce Jr., Town of Signal Mountain, Monthly bills for John Anderson from Konvalinka & Harrison P.C. to city of East Ridge

The average bill for attorney John Anderson to attend two East Ridge City Council meetings a month is $1,573.29, and some residents want to know why, when those meetings last about an hour.

"I said, 'Hey. I attend every meeting and I have a problem with his bills,'" said resident Mimi Lowrey, who complained to the City Council. "If you average this out, it doesn't come out right. I know how long I'm at these meetings. What's he doing?"

Ms. Lowrey said she questioned bills like last June's, where charges for the May council meetings came to $2,665.40, and agenda sessions, held on alternate weeks, cost the city another $3,477.90, records show.

Unlike the other part-time attorneys in the area, Mr. Anderson charges $250 an hour for all of his services, including the twice-monthly City Council meetings.

Mr. Anderson said "meetings" involve more than just the time he spends in the council chamber. Meeting charges also reflect his preparations for the meetings, he said, but would not offer details about specific billings.

"I've just done what the city has asked me to do," Mr. Anderson said.

By comparison, the monthly $4,166.67 retainer for former city attorney Cris Helton included all services outside of litigation. Mr. Helton, who served as attorney until July 2007, said the meetings during his tenure tended to be brief.

"I was city attorney for 12 years, and I would say the longest meeting I ever attended was two hours ... when one reading (of an ordinance) could take an hour," he said. "But that was once in a blue moon."

Sam Elliott, who serves as attorney to Soddy-Daisy and Collegedale, said the work is not difficult since the same questions tend to come up over and over again. He charges each city $325 per meeting.

"As far as the meetings (go), it kind of balances out," he said. "I can be at a meeting for 15 minutes and therefore the $325 for the meeting is good, or I can be at a meeting for four hours and that way I'm getting killed."

East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele has said he took the public's concern seriously, but said only a few people had complained to him about Mr. Anderson's fees.

"I understand the issue and the issues will be responded to," he said.

He added that the best way for the city to keep down legal expenses is for the council to stop making demands on Mr. Anderson's time.

Ms. Lowrey, however, had another idea for reducing the city's legal expenses.

"East Ridge doesn't need John Anderson's caliber because there's really not that much to do," she said.