Attorney Benz praised by county officials for work on lake project
Through the work of attorney Laura Benz, Grady County officials hopefully will be able to mitigate issues regarding Tired Creek Lake directly with Leon County, Fla. officials rather than officials in Florida’s capital county taking their issues and concerns directly to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Grady County Administrator J.C. (Buddy) Johnson III, said Tuesday night that he had been in negotiations with Leon County officials along with Benz, Tired Creek consultant Will Butler, Grady County Lake Authority Chairman LaDon Toole and Lake Authority executive director Mike Binion.
According to Johnson, Benz has crafted a memorandum of understanding that Grady County officials will be presenting to Leon County officials shortly. “If they agree to it it will put to rest all the back and forth bickering,” Johnson said.
The work Benz has been doing related to the lake and mediating issues with Leon County has not come without a price and on Tuesday night Johnson presented her bill for November and December work which totaled $14,142.42.
Johnson said that until the issues with Leon County are cleared up, no developer would be interested in purchasing any of the county property or being involved in the lake project.
Grady County Commissioner Ray Prince also complimented Benz for her work and said the issues with Leon County could have easily escalated and cost the county $250,000 in legal fees.
“She has done an amazing job,” Johnson added.
Johnson and Prince both said that Corps officials respond favorably to Benz. “She has a very good rapport with them. More than anyone I know,” Prince said.
Commissioner June Knight questioned if the legal fees were budgeted and Johnson indicated the budget does include money for legal fees related to the lake.
The board voted unanimously to approve payment of the invoice for November and December legal services.
Grady County administrator Johnson also reported that he had authorized payment of the final bill owed to Hall Booth Smith for the fourth quarter of 2018. The total bill was $8,399.50, of which $448.50 was related to Tired Creek Lake and the balance was general government related expenses.
The county spent $106,106.52 for county attorney legal fees in 2018 compared to $51,133.91 in 2017. That does not include legal fees paid to other attorneys representing the county in other matters including Laura Benz and Raleigh Rollins.
Grady County commissioners decided late last year not to reappoint Hall Booth Smith as the county attorney and at the Jan. 8 meeting local attorney Gabriel S. Ridley was appointed the county attorney for 2019. Ridley is guaranteed a 10-hour monthly retainer at a rate of $174 per hour and any work over and above will be billed at $174 per hour.