County Attorney Tommy Craig brushed off concerns over the county’s high legal fees at Tuesday’s Board of Commissioners meeting, after the financial report revealed that the General Fund had surpassed its legal fees budget at 113 percent just over halfway through the fiscal year.
Craig said he and his team do the work assigned to them by the BOC, the constitutional officers, and other county entities, and that litigation proceedings are difficult to predict.
“We do what we have to [do] to protect the interests of the county,” Craig said, likening the county’s legal defense to being “at war.”
“We don’t have any way to predict on the front end what the [costs] are going to be,” he continued. “It costs what it costs…Sorry if we’ve exceeded the budget, but I’m not going to apologize.”
Craig stepped in to respond to a question Commissioner Nancy Schulz had posed to County Manager Tom Garrett, who prepared the report and is responsible for processing invoices. It was the first time Craig has commented publicly on the issue since his reappointment in January provoked a public backlash after his firm billed the county for more than $1.1 million for the 2014 calendar year. An investigation published recently by The News found that many of the payments to Craig were processed with little or no oversight by elected officials.
Schulz clarified that she was not questioning the quality of Craig’s firm’s work, but that it was a matter of “dollars and cents.”
“I don’t think we can put our heads in the sand and say ‘we can’t do anything about this’,” she said. “We can’t just have a blank check.”
The board then approved the check registry, and Chairman Keith Ellis promised the financial report would be available on the county’s website soon.
The BOC also paid tribute to former County Manager John Middleton, who passed away Monday.
Former Chair Aaron Varner praised Middleton’s “honesty, straightforwardness, and leadership,” and called him a “true friend” to himself personally and to Newton County.
Separately, a discussion of the proposed civic center was tabled indefinitely, and Commissioner Levie Maddox proposed revisiting the county’s agreement with the City of Covington regarding Square Park. Specifically, Maddox suggested seeking input from the Chamber of Commerce to determine whether the local business community approved of the current management of the park by the city.
Read more in this Sunday’s edition of The News.