MADISON, Ga. – Andrea Gray was appointed to serve as the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties’ attorney Feb. 23, 2016. Since that appointment, she has served “at the pleasure of the board without a formal agreement for services,” according to an email from Gray to The Covington News in April of last year.
According to an email obtained by The News sent to JDA members Wednesday, Gray is now preparing a detailed scope of work and fee structure after questions of her duties were raised during Tuesday’s meeting in Madison.
Attorney’s responsibilities questioned
In a proposed budget presented to the JDA Tuesday, $75,000 was bookmarked for legal fees. Gray told board members she thought the number was high, as the previous year it was set at about $45,000, but she has “high hopes” of development coming in the upcoming year, which would require extended legal work.
She said there are several tasks she completes on behalf of the JDA that she does and does not bill for.
“I just want to go through what I do and don’t charge you and how I came up with this estimate for the budget that we have,” she said. “First of all, y’all don’t know what I don’t charge you for, right? Because I don’t put it on the invoices because I don’t charge you. I’d like to take a minute and go through what those items are.
“I do not charge you for mileage; I don’t charge you for any postage – I’d say about 90 percent of your mail comes out of my office and I don’t pass those costs along to you; I don’t charge you separate fees for legal research – many of your county attorneys do charge that; I don’t charge you for copies – and as you know, we’ve killed several forests in the process of getting business done; I don’t pass on filing fees to you – and those are required for recording deeds and real estate closings and those things; most importantly, I don’t charge you for my assistants time.”
Gray said she only charges the JDA for her time in six-minute increments at a rate of $150 per hour – a rate she said is “significantly discounted.”
“I charge any client that walks through my door, its $200 an hour and up,” she said. “Any client that walks through my door asking for specialized environmental work, it’s $250 an hour to start.
“For this authority, because I realize that this is a tax-payer-funded enterprise, I’ve significantly reduced my rate and really internalized all of my expenses to help keep expenses as low as possible.”
Steve Jordan, JDA treasurer, said if the authority is concerned about the fee for legal services, there are things they can do as authority members to take on some of her responsibilities.
“She’s not going to do anything we don’t ask her to do,” he said.
Carl Pennamon, authority member, said he agreed that Gray is not doing anything she is not asked to do.
“I think she is doing things beyond what she is asked to do,” he said. “I think the whole problem is we just got to be able to communicated what’s going on on a daily basis or a month to month basis. It’s communication. If we all communicate what’s going on, there won’t be any confusion within our minds.”
Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes, who serves as the JDA secretary, raised the question of why Gray is considered to be the main communicator for the authority.
“No offense to Andrea, but we have a chairman – the way the structure is set up – we have a chairman, which is Alan (Verner), so why is Andrea the main communicator?”
Gray said she works to keep things together.
“I think I’m the main communicator in such that I am somewhat of the glue that holds a lot of different things that are going on together,” she said.
Verner said Gray is considered to the authority’s record keeper.
“It just really simplifies … It’s like a one-stop-shop for a lot of things, from secretarial to legal to environmental to legal to just running a question by,” he said. “We’re such a unique organization and authority that there’s not anywhere that we can get information from that is already out there since we’re so unique.”
Tommy Craig’s attempt at power
Pennamon raised the point that the JDA has come a long way from previous legal counsel who attempted to play more of a leadership role on the authority.
“I have to say of Andrea, she has carried out the responsibility of the JDA in trying to look at the best interests of the JDA for the last – I may be a little off – 15 years because she was acting as the legal attorney at most of our meetings even when we had Tommy Craig,” he said. “She really kept this organization, in my opinion, together.”
Banes said the conversation was not meant to shine a light on Gray, but instead better understand the roles and structure of the authority and its members.
“You made the statement that we had a previous attorney – and I wasn’t here, but I assume you’re talking about Tommy Craig – and the things that he was doing you said was controlling,” he said. “It was different here and I want to learn more about what we’re doing."
Legal expenses higher than average
According to invoices acquired by The News, Gray has received $8,550 for work completed in the 2019 calendar year so far. That work includes, drafting meeting minutes, telephone conferences with board members and economic development leaders, preparing the JDA’s quarterly report and traveling to and from and attending JDA meetings.
According to information gathered from other local development authorities, the JDA’s legal budget is much higher than other similar entities.
In comparison, Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County, said Walton’s development authority annually budgets $10,000 for legal services and in the last fiscal year, it spent $9,927.69.
In the current fiscal year, attorney fees for the Development Authority of Walton County have totaled $21,594, with $19,750 of that being reimbursed by Hitachi, for a total of $1,844 since July 2018.
“Our attorney also discounts his billing to the development authority an average of 15 percent each month as a ‘courtesy discount,’” Short told The News in an email Thursday. “The reason for this is that as our attorney, he makes money doing bond work for us, which is exactly what the above 19,750 was for. So, he gives us a discount because that’s where he benefits most.”
According to an invoice obtained by The News, Gray billed Facebook $175,000 last year for the bond work completed on behalf of the JDA.
Up until a motion made last month, the Newton County Industrial Development Authority was not paying for legal services. Frank Turner Jr., of Greer, Stansfield & Turner, LLP, was an at-large member of the IDA since the early 2000s and served as the attorney since a couple of years after that.
“That followed the prior practice when Ed Crudup was an at-large member and served as the attorney,” Turner told The News. “Like Ed, I have served without payment from the IDA. Instead, when revenue bonds are issued for industrial developments, the industry pays both their bond counsel and me as issuer counsel.”
Turner said he has never issued an invoice for legal services to the IDA.
“During that time period I have attended all meetings, monitored compliance with open meetings, open records and other laws, negotiated with prospects, kept the books, kept minutes and other legal services as required,” he said.
Last month, the authority voted – with Turner abstaining – to pay him a monthly fee of $1,500 for all legal services will all bond issuance fees continuing to come from whom the bonds are issued.
“I would continue to provide the same services,” he said. “There have been no payments yet as I am still officially a board member. At such time as my successor is appointed, and I am no longer a board member, payment for my services would commence the following month.”
Moving forward with scope
In her Wednesday email to authority members, Gray said once they agree on what services they would like her to provide, a fee structure could be discussed to move forward. The email read as follows:
"I reflected on the discussions regarding my role and fees at the meeting yesterday and came to the conclusion that in order to better serve you I need clarity on:
- My scope of work
- The protocol for my communications with the authority
"I am going to prepare a detailed list of the scope of work I have traditionally performed, both billed and unbilled and legal-related and not legal-related, and email it to everyone. Once you decide which services you wish me to provide, we can discuss my fee structure. After we have a clear scope of work and clear fee structure, I will prepare a written contract between myself and the Authority so that there is no confusion or uncertainty for either of us.
"I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege to represent the Authority. I genuinely appreciate the compliments and support from the board at the meeting. I look forward to communicating openly and honestly to address any concerns directly so that we can move forward with the true purposes and mission of the Authority – creating jobs and tax revenue!"
The JDA is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. March 26 at the Morgan County Planning and Development Conference Room, 150 E. Washington St., Suite 201, Madison, GA 30650 and will further review a proposed authority structure, which was also presented Tuesday.