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County’s proposal requirements seem to favor out-of-town law firms

Following a nearly two hour closed door session Monday and then an hour-long one Friday, the Grady County Commission voted first to solicit a Request for Qualifications for legal services, but by the end of the week changed it to a Request for Proposals.
Annually in January, at the first meeting of the new year, the commission appoints a county attorney, however it appears that may not be the case in 2018.
The R.F.Q. issued last week and converted to an R.F.P. this week does not rule out the possibility of hiring an employee as county attorney. Up until now, the county attorney has not been an employee of the county but has been an appointee of the commission and paid a retainer. Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley has served in this role for more than 16 years.
Within hours of the meeting last Monday morning, a 15-page R.F.Q. was posted to the Grady County website, and at least two commissioners had not read it prior to it being posted.
According to Grady County Commission Vice Chairman T.D. David, only Commission Chairman Ray Prince had read and approved the R.F.Q. for legal services.
The revised R.F.P. was not posted until this week and on Tuesday morning Tobar was still reviewing modifications he had made and made public, although the full board had not seen or been consulted about it prior to its release.
During the discussion Tuesday morning, it appeared that not all of the commissioners understood exactly what was taking place.
Attorney Cauley shared with the board that he was “confused” with the process that had been developed and he said, in his opinion, other attorneys were likely similarly confused.
Based on a public notice published in this edition of The Cairo Messenger and on the document posted to the county website, a mandatory pre-bid conference of interested applicants will be held Friday, Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. Interested parties will have until 6 p.m. on Dec. 19 to submit their responses. Friday, Dec. 22 has been set as the date for selections for interviews and presentations by applicants and the final interviews are set for Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018 but no date has been determined for making a final selection.
The R.F.Q., now an R.F.P., prohibits applicants from discussing or contacting any member of the board or county staff other than County Clerk Carrie Kines Croy. Any such contact will be cause for disqualification, according to the document approved by Chairman Prince.
Cauley said he may have already disqualified himself by asking questions about the procedure.
Tobar later admitted that it should have been reworded to prohibit contact once a proposal was submitted.
The minimum qualifications stated in the county document include three years prior experience of practice in local government law.
Based on the document, the county is seeking an attorney who can represent the board in general government law, bond/capital financing law, contract law, general litigation, bankruptcy/collection law, employment law, and environmental law.
Cauley asked if the board was planning to self-insure itself, and noted that currently the Association County Commissioners of Georgia is the county’s insurer and ACCG has the right to hire counsel to represent the county in claims made against the county.
Cauley said it appeared the process put in place by Tobar would give that discretion to the board or county administrator.
Prince admitted he did not have an answer to Cauley’s question.
Tobar said the intent was to open it up to all interested attorneys and not to exclude anyone, including Cauley.
“Have we never done this before?” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland asked and Cauley explained not in Grady County.
Cauley said that he was approached by the then commission chairman and the former county administrator. He said that annually former administrator, the late Rusty Moye, would meet with him to discuss budget and to project legal expenses.
“I was offered the same retainer the former attorney was paid, which covers my attendance at your regular monthly meetings. Any additional work is billed at my published hourly rate,” Cauley said.
The county attorney also said that if the retainer had increased over the years it was through the normal budgeting process and not at his request.
During 2017, as part of a Community Development Block Grant application Cauley was tasked with attempting to acquire over 40 tracts of land, conduct title exams on each, prepare deeds on each, lien releases and closings.
According to Cauley, the was the most right-of-way acquisition work he was asked to do in the entire time he has served as the county attorney.
“At the end of the day you need counsel you have confidence in. I respect and want to help you exercise your right to freely choose legal counsel and want you to have representation you communicate with openly. You need it,” Cauley said
The county attorney said it seemed that the issue was with cost not his service, but he noted that no one had contacted him or expressed concerns with cost.
Cauley said the process the county was moving forward with favored a larger, regional firm. “If that’s what you want you certainly have that right and I would be happy to transition to the new counsel,” Cauley said.
The county attorney said that it would be difficult for a small firm or single lawyer to “partner” with other lawyers with specific expertise as Tobar has suggested and avoid creating conflicts for the attorneys in their other legal work.
Tobar said he used the language used in documents used by Mitchell County to obtain legal services. Cauley noted that Hall Booth, a large firm with offices in Albany represents Mitchell County and he said the document was tailored to that firm.
Cauley suggested if the board wished to negotiate pricing with him or any other legal counsel they could abandon the process that had been advertised and negotiate directly with whomever they chose.
“We could cut through some of this red tape doing it that way?” Commissioner Copeland asked and Cauley indicated that was correct.
Cauley suggested that if the commissioners were not satisfied with his service and wished to negotiate with a larger firm they should contact the firm directly and he would assist as needed.
“I’m certainly satisfied with the legal coverage we are getting from you. The only reason I agreed to do this was because it had never been done and that is a positive. It should have been done. We’re letting the people know we’re getting the best service at the best price,” Vice Chairman T.D. David said.
Cauley said he understood the intent, but contended that the board’s intent was not being communicated and the process was confusing.
Attorneys or firms interested in submitting a proposal will meet with county staff this Friday at 9 a.m.

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