Council may hire part-time lawyer

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 3, 2006

After the Demopolis City Council’s first meeting of February, Citizens Task Force member Claud Neilson and other members expressed concern over the assistance they have gotten from the city.

At Thursday’s meeting, the city continued their discussion of the issue and may have found a way to make the process of taking action on buildings regarded as eyesores faster. The council discussed the possibility of hiring a part-time attorney to help handle the cases, which would take this burden off city attorney Rick Manley and quicken the process in which these properties are dealt with.

Councilman Jack Cooley said hiring a part-time attorney would keep the group interested and let them know the city was ready to work with them.

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“I would like to propose, under the circumstances to ensure the committee does not lose interest in what they have attempted to do for the past year, that we discuss the hiring of an attorney specifically for what they are handling now,” Cooley said. “We could let that part-time attorney process those and in 30 days, if Mr. Rick Manley has not gotten around to the other 18, we can share some of those files also.”

Councilman Woody Collins said he supported the idea, but wanted someone to follow the cases from beginning to end. Having someone begin the process and hand them over to Manley defeated the purpose, Collins said.

“If we get somebody, they need to go through the end of the process,” Collins said. “I don’t think we can hand it off midstream. I don’t have a problem with giving it to somebody as long as they see it all the way through.”

Hiring an attorney would mean another expense for the city. Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson said she would like to see hard figures before approving the hire of an attorney.

“The one thing I want to know is how much money are we talking about spending here?” Williamson asked. “Are we talking about getting someone and putting then on retainer, or are we talking about paying them by the hour? I want to know how many dollars we are talking about.”

Manley’s estimates at the February meeting said it could be $30,000 or more to clean the areas up. But, this estimate was over a broad period of time, not just one year.

Task force member John Cox Webb said when all was said and done; the expense may not be what they appear. Webb said by taking action, the city would assume the properties and in turn, could sell them making the hire different from an ordinary expense.

“The thought of the committee is that everything costs money,” Webb said. “It costs money to sweep the streets and plant flowers and to do the things you do for the citizens. Eventually, if the city is going to sue and condemn they can sell the properties and get the money back. The city can recover the cost.”

Most members of the council felt the hiring of an attorney could be a positive move. But, none wanted to go into the situation blind. Councilman Thomas Moore said he would like to look deeper into the hiring before moving.

“I think we should authorize someone to examine the process so we can hit the ground running two weeks from now,” Moore said. “We have to hit the ground running two weeks from now.”

Moore volunteered to speak with local mayors who have made similar hires so the council can travel the correct path when a decision is made in two weeks.

In other business, the city’s Park and Recreation Board gave their annual report. According to the report, the department finished the year 20 percent under budget. They generated $65,000 in revenue and held 1,600 events.

The council also appointed Williamson and Moore to represent them as delegate and alternate respectively for the Alabama League of Municipalities.