East Ridge 3-2 vote extends contract of city attorney

East Ridge 3-2 vote extends contract of city attorney

December 10th, 2011 by Kate Harrison Belz in News

East Ridge City Attorney John Anderson

Photo by Laura-Chase McGehee

East Ridge City Councilmen abruptly voted 3 to 2 Thursday night to extend City Attorney John Anderson's contract to 2015.

Councilman Darwin Branam said the move was a "vote of confidence" in Anderson, whose position came under fire in March when Councilmen Denny Manning and Jim Bethune unsuccessfully tried to fire him.

Manning and Bethune voted against the measure. Both repeatedly have stated they believe Anderson is overpaid.

The city has budgeted $120,000 for legal services, which includes Anderson's $90,000 retainer.

"The council is divided on the city attorney," Branam said Friday. "It creates a hostile work environment when you're always being threatened with getting fired."

Vice Mayor Larry Sewell made the motion for the vote, saying it would bring consistency to the city government as East Ridge seeks to increase economic development.

"We want to have stability in the government," said Branam.

Anderson, East Ridge's attorney since 2008, previously operated on an annual contract that automatically renews each June.

Last fiscal year, Anderson collected more than $158,000. City Manager Tim Gobble said additional council-pursued litigation led to the increase in legal expenses.

Mayor Brent Lambert said he did not believe Anderson is overpaid, noting that, compared with other cities East Ridge's size, the city is "right in line."

"We are getting a great value for what we're paying for," Lambert said.

Bethune said Friday he believes the extension was a political move because two councilmen's seats are up for grabs next year.

"It was never mentioned in the agenda session. I was totally blindsided - but not surprised," he said.

Bethune likened the sudden move to the recent contract extension and raise for Gobble that - like Anderson's extension - were tacked on to the agenda at the last minute and discussed only during the council meeting.