Last night 11 Alive News aired a report on the fees paid to the Newton County Attorney, Tommy Craig. Many questions were raised by the reporter as well as citizens who were interviewed. Many have questioned why the Board agreed to reappoint Mr. Craig as County Attorney. Prior to the vote, I made the following statement which was made part of the official minutes of the meeting.
It is unacceptable to continue to do business as usual. We have created a culture that fosters high legal fees. How do we restructure and break that cycle? Are we utilizing the County Attorney’s office in the most efficient manner to provide the NECESSARY expertise without UNNECESSARY costs?
If we do not make structural changes to the way in which we utilize the County Attorney’s office, then we will continue to have high legal costs regardless of who is in the role of County Attorney.During my first term, I requested the County Attorney provide the Board with a quarterly update on litigation. Since my initial request, Ms. Carter and Mr. Craig have consistently provided the Board with an update each quarter. However, that update does not provide an accounting of our expenses related to lawsuits and/or other legal services. Now that we have new financial software, we should be able to code expenses to a subaccount or project for each lawsuit, thereby allowing the Board to clearly understand the costs associated with lawsuits or legal actions. For example, if we see that we have spent $4 million defending a $2 million lawsuit, that’s probably not a wise use of taxpayer money. The goal would be to evaluate expenditures before they get to a point of diminishing returns.
So, in summary, I would like to make my vote for this reappointment contingent on these two requests.
1. Mr. Garrett provide the board with a recommendation for a protocol to live within our budget for legal fees and present to the board at the Annual Retreat in February.
2. Add real time accounting to the quarterly litigation report. This can be a function of the Finance Dept.
I am happy to report that Mr. Garrett has already provided the BOC with a detailed spreadsheet of the legal expenses since the beginning of FY2015 (July 1-December 31). This is the first step in clearly understanding the fees that we have incurred and how best to begin the process of “living within our budget”.
As a member of the Board of Commissioners, I take my fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Newton County very seriously. I will do everything in my power to use the taxpayer’s money wisely.
Nancy Schulz, District 3 Commissioner