Legal bills for WWTA hit nearly $120,000

Legal bills for WWTA hit nearly $120,000

January 4th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in News

WHERE THE MONEY WENT

The Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority spent almost $120,000 in legal bills over a 14-month period to attorney John Anderson. The expenses include:

* $2,225: Traveling to Nashville and meeting with Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, on March 4, 2008.

* $1,312.50: Preparing for a committee meeting on Feb. 7, 2008.

* $1,125: Attending a regularly scheduled board meeting on Nov. 14, 2007.

* $1,062.50: Going to a regularly scheduled business meeting on March 19, 2008.

* $562.50: Attending a luncheon with WWTA Chairman Henry Hoss and other board members on Oct. 24, 2007.

* $562.50: Various telephone conferences over 2.25 hours for Blythe Ferry Sewage Facilities Agreement.

* $367.13: Lunch at the Walden Club on Oct. 4, 2007.

* $193.23: Lunch at the Walden Club on Aug. 24, 2007.

* $55.50: Reviewing an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 9, 2008.

Source: Hamilton County WWTA

The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority spent almost $120,000 over a 14-month period on legal bills that included dining, attending routine meetings and reviewing newspaper articles, records show.

"I was very shocked when I found out how much it cost," County Commissioner Bill Hullander said Friday. "Something needs to be done."

The County Commission requested itemized legal bills from the treatment authority more than two months ago. The authority twice gave the commission incomplete documents, with details about service expenditures blacked out.

The complete versions of the legal bills finally came in two weeks ago, said Commissioner Curtis Adams, chairman of the Finance Committee. Commissioners could not believe the expenses they found, he said.

"We were all shocked," he said. "There were a lot of meals at Walden Club for $300."

John Anderson, the WWTA's attorney who charged the legal bills, could not be reached for comment. All bills were from Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison P.C., the firm for which Mr. Anderson works.

Henry Hoss, who resigned Monday as chairman of the Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, also could not be reached.

Don Haynes, the WWTA's vice chairman, said Friday he would not comment on any of the financial matters because he was only a voting member.

"You need to talk to Mr. Hoss about that," he said.

Mr. Anderson regularly charged $500 for phone calls, some to Mr. Hoss, the records show. Trips to regularly scheduled board meetings cost more than $1,000 each, records show, while preparation and attending meetings cost $500 to $1,000.

In May 2008, the WWTA received a bill for more than $13,500 for work on a commissioner's order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, according to records.

The WWTA has come under scrutiny in the last several months because of questions concerning expenses. The authority hired a $25,000 lobbyist and also faced criticism for hiring Derryberry Public Relations over the summer.

County commissioners criticized the sewer authority for an $8 monthly increase to some customers' bills. The money is to be used to inspect and repair leaking sewer lines, authority officials have said.

Mr. Hoss submitted his letter of resignation last week, and County Mayor Claude Ramsey is expected to name a new board member this week. County commissioners have said they want someone with financial experience to head the WWTA and that could be County Finance Administrator Louis Wright.

A spokesman for Mr. Ramsey said Friday the mayor was unavailable to comment.

Commission Chairman Jim Coppinger said last week that, to save money, the commission could look at having the county attorney's office do some work for the WWTA.

"That's an option," he said. "You could have our attorney handle that board and other boards, and it would be cheaper than what we're paying right now."

Mr. Adams said Mr. Anderson is a good attorney, but that was the problem.

"He just wasn't the type of attorney they needed," he said. "He's too high."

In the near future, Mr. Adams said he could request legal bills from all of the county's boards to see how they are handling legal fees. It might be a good time to make sure corrections are made if needed, he said.

"This has been embarrassing to us," he said.