Legal fees hit funds in reserve

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Developers and neighbor-hoods had to be paired to secure funds, Administrator Fred Russell said.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Developers and neighbor-hoods had to be paired to secure funds, Administrator Fred Russell said.

The Augusta Commission voted Tuesday to take $600,000 out of reserve and contingency funds so the Law Department can continue paying outside attorneys through the end of the year.

The department has already exhausted its legal fees budget, spending $450,000 so far this year. A request for supplemental funds attached to Tuesday's meeting agenda blamed "recent changes in federal law" and "a rise in countywide litigation."

Though City Attorney Chiquita Johnson signed off on the expenses, she didn't hire all the attorneys being paid. Fees paid to Burnside Wall LLP, the firm of former City Attorney Jim Wall, which the Richmond County Sheriff's Office uses for litigation, come out of her budget. The Wall firm is also involved in the continuing X-Mart case.

Finance Director Donna Williams said she couldn't determine on short notice which attorneys were hired by the city attorney and which by other departments. Ms. Johnson did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.

Among those brought in by the Law Department have been Freeman, Mathis & Gary LLP, of Atlanta, for the Teresa Smith case, the Thompson Building Wrecking Co. case, airport matters and various tax appeals; and Mary Cooney, of Atlanta, for the McKnight Construction Co. case.

The commission voted 7-2 (Joe Bowles and Jerry Brigham opposed, Corey Johnson not present) to take $300,000 from contingency funds and to authorize as much as $300,000 from reserves. The Law Department must provide "comprehensive" monthly reports on legal expenses to the commission, and Law Department funds can't be transferred without Ms. Johnson's being informed.

Mr. Brigham said he feels hiring of outside attorneys ought to be approved by the commission, and he wasn't comfortable agreeing to $600,000 when the contingency fund has a balance of only $425,000.

"We should not spend more than what's in our contingency fund," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

In other business Tuesday

Pension plan

The Pension & Audit Committee learned that the city will have to come up with $1.3 million by the end of the year to cover shortages in the 1949 pension fund, which took a battering in last year's market with plummeting investment values. Otherwise, the city won't be in compliance with the state-required level of contributions.

That news came out of an actuarial valuation with data ending Jan. 1. A portfolio review of the 1945 and 1949 pension plans for the period ending July 31, presented by financial adviser Charles May of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, offered better news. The market has rebounded in the past four months, Mr. May said.

The 1949 plan, which lost $20 million in 2008, has risen from $55.2 million to $55.9 million since January. The 1945 plan, which lost $2.4 million in 2008, has dropped from $6.9 million to $6.7 million this year.

Stimulus funds concerns

The commission sent the proposed ratification of a $50 million request for neighborhood stabilization stimulus funds back to the Administrative Services committee in hopes of having more questions answered.

The application has Commissioners Betty Beard and J.R. Hatney livid at City Administrator Fred Russell, Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler and Mayor Deke Copenhaver, who sent the paperwork to Washington without com-mission OK and omitted the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighbor-hoods.

The mayor and Mr. Russell have said that if they'd waited for approval the city would have missed the application deadline and would have had no chance of getting funds. Neighborhoods had to be paired with developers who could line up written backing from lending institutions, and that didn't work for Laney-Walker or Bethlehem, Mr. Russell said.

The application includes $21 million for the Goshen golf course community, and members of the Goshen Resi-dents Homeowners Association on Tuesday wanted to know if stimulus funds would lead to low-income housing.

Mr. Russell said no, that the money would be used to revive a stalled project by Gould & Associates to build homes and townhomes.

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Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 08/05/09 - 02:20 am
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Speaking of legal fees, how

Speaking of legal fees, how much did the RCBOE spend on legal fees during FY09?

Brad Owens
4281
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Brad Owens 08/05/09 - 04:51 am
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Looks like Steve Shephard's

Looks like Steve Shephard's firm is looking better and better all the time huh? We just HAD to have a legal department and it HAD to have an African-American in charge huh? Now we see what REALLY happens. The attorney hired cannot do the job so the sub out all the REAL cases and she gets to collect a salary and not really do anything but file "comprehensive" monthly reports on it. BS complete BS.

concernednative
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concernednative 08/05/09 - 07:06 am
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Brad, you know the problem

Brad, you know the problem isn't having a legal dept and certainly not that it is an Afro-American. Cities all across the country have competent legal departments. The problem is the person isn't qualified they should have offered a little higher salary and got someone that could handle the job black or white.

ColCo
701
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ColCo 08/05/09 - 07:07 am
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Which Commissioner was

Which Commissioner was missing?

HillGuy
7
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HillGuy 08/05/09 - 07:09 am
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The woman is named after a

The woman is named after a banana.. I'm sure that earns respect in the courtroom.

rufus
2
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rufus 08/05/09 - 07:36 am
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You have to be an idiot to

You have to be an idiot to accept a high profile position knowing that you are not qualified.

Little Lamb
45275
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Little Lamb 08/05/09 - 08:27 am
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To concernednative:

To concernednative: logically what you are saying is correct. But this is Augusta. Not only is Chiquita incompetent, but she is just about the highest paid employee in the city. Johnny Edwards has posted a link to city salaries here on the Chronicle web site.

Little Lamb
45275
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Little Lamb 08/05/09 - 08:29 am
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What about this Goshen thing,

What about this Goshen thing, folks? There is a stalled housing project down there (market-rate housing started by a private company) that has a chance to get HUD money to finish it. Beard and Hatney want to stop this stimulus money coming to Augusta just because they didn't get a piece of the pie. Incredible!

disssman
6
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disssman 08/05/09 - 08:39 am
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We seem to have an abundance

We seem to have an abundance of money when the Non-profits come to city hall, What about all the money we have saved from budgeting Gasoline at 2.50 a gallon for the entire year? I don't believe Gas has been 80 percent of that figure so far. BTW, do we have a contract for all city vehicles to use a gas provider and what reduced rate do they give us for volume sales?

mad_max
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mad_max 08/05/09 - 09:10 am
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This town is doomed. Chiquita

This town is doomed. Chiquita Johnson is totally incompetent and can't handle the simplest matters. Geez, she even hires outside attorneys to handle tax cases. All she does is pass out our money and try to prevent the press from finding out what happens in the "secret meetings'. But, she is black so she will be there forever because it isn't politically correct to infer that a black government employee is incompetent......but she is. In addition we have the ridiculous amount of money we have spent trying to prevent X-Mart from opening a perfectly legal business. What a crock. Which idiots continue to spend OUR TAX MONEY on what was obviously a lossing battle FOR NO REASON. We have commissioners and a Planning and Zoning that are too stupid to make ordinances to legally prevent X-Mart from locating there so they insist on WASTING OUR TAX MONEY on a losing battle to try to cover up THEIR STUPIDITY after the cat was already out of the bag. Columbia County and North Augusta don't seem to have these kinds of problems. Hmmm...wonder what the differnece is? Oh yeh.....you're safe Chiquita, our commission will give you a "pass". How much more money do you need?

GSneed
0
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GSneed 08/05/09 - 12:18 pm
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Where does race play a part

Where does race play a part in this? If she's incompetent, she's incompetent...but it's certainly not because she's Black. Geez people. Are you serious?! Harold Jones is Black, and he's doing an outstanding as Solicitor. Kellie Kenner is your Asst Solicitor. She's Black and doing just as well.

Little Lamb
45275
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Little Lamb 08/05/09 - 12:40 pm
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Precisely, GSneed. Thank

Precisely, GSneed. Thank you.

Old_Chevy
9
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Old_Chevy 08/05/09 - 09:20 pm
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All this junk is a prelude

All this junk is a prelude for another property tax increase.

Little Lamb
45275
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Little Lamb 08/05/09 - 09:46 pm
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Wow, that's a new wrinkle,

Wow, that's a new wrinkle, Chevy. If the commissioners turn down the federal stimulus money for Goshen and Harrisburg, you are saying that they would raise taxes for Laney Walker/Bethlehem. Stranger things have happened. Hold on to your wallets.

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