County attorney fees top $97,000 and year not over

Grady County commissioners remain on track to more than double their legal expenses for county attorney when compared to 2017, but on Tuesday the board authorized County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, to begin advertising for a request for proposal for a new county attorney to begin work in 2019.
The county commission was asked to pay a $23,384.05 invoice from Hall Booth Smith, the law firm that currently serves as the Grady County attorney, for legal services incurred during the third quarter of 2018. Combined with a first quarter bill of $42,836.47 and a second quarter bill of $31,486.50, the county has paid through September a total of $97,707.02 in legal fees for the county attorney with three more months of bills to be paid this year.
That does not include legal fees paid to other attorneys who have worked for the county, including Laura Benz and Raleigh Rollins.
In all of 2017, the county spent $51,133.91 in county attorney bills, which were broken down as $16,000 retainer and additional billable hours of $35,133.91, which included a significant amount of right-of-way acquisition for county road projects.
Hall Booth Smith continues to redact the billing detail and although the county commission could authorize bills without redaction to be released to the public and the press, county attorney Jennifer Herzog has recommended against it and the board has followed suit.
“The question you as a board need to ask yourself and decide if you are getting your money’s worth from this firm. In my opinion, we spend lots of money with brokerage questions which results in a lot of time and doubles and sometimes triples the cost,” the county administrator said. Johnson said that many times questions that are asked of the county attorney are then presented to other attorneys, including Benz, for answers, particularly when related to Tired Creek Lake.
“My mind is already made up,” Commissioner LaFaye Copeland said.
“We definitely need to go with another thing,” Chairman Ray Prince said.
Commissioner June Knight said that questions regarding the lake should go directly to Benz and not to Herzog first.
The county administrator said that when the board hired Hall Booth Smith, “the intention was you would get one thing, but that didn’t work out.”
One thing that is working out, according to Commissioner Knight, is that Herzog is “getting her money, or at least her firm is.”
“I think you have a unanimous board on making a change,” Chairman Prince said.
Johnson said if the board’s desire was to move forward with making a change in 2019 he would begin making plans for the transition and soliciting proposals from other attorneys.
Commissioner Keith Moye asked when the county administrator would issue an RFP for legal services and Johnson said he would begin as soon as possible, saying, “We need to have a new attorney in place by the first of the year.”
County officials acknowledged that there could be issues that have not been resolved that may continue into the new year and Hall Booth would be expected to wrap up work on those items and transition to the new county attorney.
Moye offered a motion to approve payment of the third quarter billing and to authorize the advertising of an RFP for legal services. His motion passed unanimously.
“I think she (Herzog) sort of knows. I was really misled when we hired them, and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” Commissioner Copeland commented.
“I was, too. We thought we were getting something we didn’t get,” Chairman Prince added.
In related business Tuesday morning, the board approved payment of a $10,316.17 invoice from attorney Laura Benz for legal services rendered in July and August related to Tire Creek Lake.
The invoice was previously tabled to allow time for additional review. On Tuesday, the county administrator said the billing was accurate and did not include legal services for any county consultants including Will Butler.
“Laura Benz is very much an asset to that lake. She keeps us out of trouble with the Corps (of Engineers). She deals with 53-page letters and handles the response. I have zero complaint with Laura Benz. We pay her a lot of money, but we have to. That lake is an intricate thing,” county administrator Johnson commented.

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