BREAKING: Council Mulls Mothballing Legal Dept. | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

BREAKING: Council Mulls Mothballing Legal Dept.

Updated and longer story posted.

Four members of City Council said they are considering withholding funding to the city's legal department after what they described as that department's clear bias toward the mayor's office.

"I think we ought to call for the abolition of the legal department and farm the department out to outside lawyers until the time that we can do a much better job. For the record, I would like to see us abolish that department, to just wipe it off the face of the earth," said Ward 2 Councilman Leslie McLemore.

McLemore urged the council to file formal complaint letters with the Attorney General's office, the Mississippi Bar Association and the state ethics commission for dereliction of duties.

Council members, including Margaret Barrett-Simon, Marshand Crisler, Leslie McLemore and Council President Ben Allen were left to contemplate the possibility of cutting funding to the city attorney's office when the team abandoned the council during a 3 p.m. special meeting Tuesday.

The Council was holding the special meeting regarding the new city division proposed earlier in the day by Mayor Frank Melton, which would be headed by former Parks and Recreation Director Ramie Ford. Council was also discussing the appointment of Ford's successor Charles Melvin and had asked Chief Administration Officer Robert Walker to leave council chambers so they could go into executive session. Walker warned that the city's legal team would follow him if he left the chambers.

Seeing that a majority of the council was siding against the mayor's wish to install an inexperienced replacement as director of Parks, Melton Council supporters Frank Bluntson and Charles Tillman stormed out of the meeting in protest.

"I'm not happy with those people," Bluntson told reporters without adding further comment.

City Attorney Sarah O'Reilly-Evans immediately called Melton concerning the matter and was told that she should withhold legal advice from City Council in retaliation, according to council members, and she subsequently left council chambers with three members of her staff in tow.

"Her words were '(Melton) ordered her to leave this meeting,' and with that, the representative body of this city was without legal representation," Barrett-Simon said. "We've made the argument on this council for some time that we don't have legal representation as mandated by state statute. We need no other proof as of today. Our legal team was ordered to leave this meeting and to provide no advice to us."

Crisler defended the idea of cutting funding to the department. "If the legal department doesn't want to work for the council, the council shouldn't have to be able to fund that department. That's one of our authorities, and we need to exercise that authority. That's how you have a balance of power," Crisler said.

Allen complained that the council had already been forced to hire outside council to investigate O'Reilly-Evans' employment agreement. "We came here to discuss a sensitive issue … and we spent the last hour talking about something we didn't come here to talk about," Allen said.

The original topic of the meeting was the mayor's decision to create a tailor-made city division to house Ford, so he could evacuate a position coveted by Melton's friend Melvin and still have a job. Melvin also worked under Melton at the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and has been running the city's controversial Youth Services division for the mayor. Melvin and Melton told the Jackson Free Press' Donna Ladd in April that all young hires were drug-tested, but that turned out not to be true.

Ford said he anticipated a modest pay raise over his current pay of more than $76,000 a year, and said he will serve as a consultant to Melvin. Melvin has no parks-related experience but will take over a department with a $6.6 million annual budget.

Melton said he stood behind Melvin's promotion, even though by Melton's own admission, Melvin has no training in administration management and holds only a BA in education. The mayor pointed to his athletic prowess as his top qualification.

"(Melvin) is a superior athlete and has a very unique approach with our youth. He has a lot of energy, he participates in the athletic programs here, he's coached a number of … teams here," Melton said, explaining that Melvin has the same experience that qualified Melton to run a department. "I was a coach, and I played, and I ran some successful television stations. Some skills are transferable," Melton said. "Why don't you wait six months to see what kind of job he does? There's things on this earth called fairness."

The new department, called the Neighborhood Enhancement Department, would merge Public Works with Parks and Recreation to focus on city beautification, especially litter removal, pothole repair and park maintenance.

The council spoke with more boldness regarding the city's legal department this afternoon thanks to Allen's recent immigration to the ranks of those critical of the mayor. Allen was already criticizing Melton last week on his decision to appoint Melvin and vowed to oppose Melvin's appointment, citing his lack of qualifications compared to Ford's impressive resume.

Melton said the new department will be revenue neutral by pooling resources and personnel from other departments, such as Public Works and Parks and Recreation, but the council will have to approve Ford's new $76,000-plus salary.

Barrett-Simon summed up Melton's decision to form a new city division without consulting council in a single word: "Reckless."

Previous Comments

ID
125249
Comment

Well, this is a start. However, if this is just over Ford and Melvin then this is just a brief show of force. My guess is the AG opinion on SORE's contract wasn't favorable to the council either. I hope I am wrong!

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-06T18:02:08-06:00
ID
125250
Comment

WAPT was at the event and may present the story tonight.

Author
Adam Lynch
Date
2007-02-06T18:23:59-06:00
ID
125251
Comment

At the conclusion of the session, the four remaining council members--a majority--expressed their intent to cut funding to the city's legal department, since that department was operating at the exclusive behest of the mayor. Well, I'm glad they are starting to face this publicly. Cheers to the four for finally standing together against a rogue administration. They need to exercise every power at their disposal to stop this madness. It will get worse if Council doesn't take major action here. Mark our words. (And, remember, we said that before the Ridgeway incident and indictments.)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T18:40:36-06:00
ID
125252
Comment

It is surely logical for the city council to want legal representation, especially given the mayor's questionably legal tactics.

Author
Izzy
Date
2007-02-06T18:52:39-06:00
ID
125253
Comment

It's time to make a stand or find another job, as there will be no point to having a Council at all. Just a dictator for a mayor.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-06T19:26:55-06:00
ID
125254
Comment

I just hope the city can collectively learn from this experience the dangers of demagoguery. That is: Actin' a fool about crime doesn't mean ones knows how to do anything about it. Or wants to. Could mean the opposite.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T19:40:39-06:00
ID
125255
Comment

State law doesn't provide council for city councils. Sucks. Unless you are SORE.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-06T20:49:42-06:00
ID
125256
Comment

WAPT does have a story about the mutiny today. I don't see anything at WLBT or The Clarion-Ledger (although you can indeed link to a lot of breaking press releases over at the Ledge). WJTV has this headline on their Web site: Jackson Mayor Frank Melton is back in the office and addressing personnel issues. I guess understatements like that is what gets WJTV reporters hired as spokemen for the mayor, eh? Giggle.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T21:18:46-06:00
ID
125257
Comment

No Doubt, FM does believe that MBN skills transfer. At one time the Chief of Police and the Assistant Chief were both former MBN employees. The Mayor is a former MBN employee. And now, he wants the Parks and Rec. head to be a former MBN employee. Only another $76,000 plus benefits. Words escape me regarding City Legal.....won't believe anything until tomorrow as both Ben and Mayor could do an about face. Legal should have at least one fair and impartial person dedicated to the City Council. When this is denied to them, what other alternative do they have than to stop the money?

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-06T21:51:41-06:00
ID
125258
Comment

other sistes are silent about this whole mess. I guess the only ones who find this appalling are us moonbats.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-06T21:55:42-06:00
ID
125259
Comment

I strongly suspect it's more about loyalty than skills. You're right, the council president has done many about-faces to date. At a dinner party the other night, it was suggested to us that we do a Ben Allen Flip-Flop-o-ter in the paper. ;-) I personally think he's had basic good intentions through it all, but he's been rather naive as well, seeming to think that Melton is suddenly going to change his ways if he doesn't push him too hard. In some ways, Ben may be the last one to get the memo on Melton if you know what I mean. But he may have gotten it. Then again, he may not have. Time will tell.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T21:56:38-06:00
ID
125260
Comment

King, I think it's more about the folks who were fooled by Melton preferring to talk about something, anything else these days. It must be painful to have been so obviously snookered. Not everyone has as much class as Jeff Good and can admit they were taken. Of course, if they really cared about the city, they would emulate Jeff and try to help save the city from this disaster administration and stop worrying about who was right and who was wrong. But, no, it's easier to change the subject. Sigh. The definition of "moonbat" must surely be: "Someone who doesn't make decisions based on political dogma, but on facts. Antonym: "Wingnut." (Smile)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T21:57:59-06:00
ID
125261
Comment

Come on Allen. Show us what you got. If not, appoint me. I'll make it happen. Hell, can you appoint me as mayor? It doesn't matter if you don't have the authority, just do it. :) lc

Author
LawClerk
Date
2007-02-06T22:00:35-06:00
ID
125262
Comment

BTW, this from above may be the *most* remarkable thing Melton has ever said, and there's some serious competition: Melton said he stood behind Melvin’s promotion, even though by Melton’s own admission, Melvin has no training in administration management and holds only a BA in education. The mayor pointed to his athletic prowess as his top qualification. “(Melvin) is a superior athlete and has a very unique approach with our youth. He has a lot of energy, he participates in the athletic programs here, he’s coached a number of … teams here,” Melton said, explaining that Melvin has the same experience that qualified Melton to run a department. “I was a coach, and I played, and I ran some successful television stations. Some skills are transferable,” Melton said. “Why don’t you wait six months to see what kind of job he does? There’s things on this earth called fairness.”

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T22:02:54-06:00
ID
125263
Comment

screw dat. I can spell, am good with an alphabet, and have great skills at coloring in coloring books. Therefore, step aside Ladd, I'm taking over as editor of JFP. In 6 months you'll see it was the right thing to do and you have no idea that I can't do the job right. The same skills that allow me to color well and win spelling bees are the same ones used to run a newspaper. That and my natural enthusiasm for the job means I am can handle it.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-06T22:04:10-06:00
ID
125264
Comment

Good example, Kingfish. Except you forget the part where the taxpayers have to pay you for that six months before they get to criticize your appointment. There is nothing about being a public servant that Melton understands. And it sounds like Robert Walker is not much more impressive. And SORE? No comment.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T22:06:30-06:00
ID
125265
Comment

what example. I'm serious.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-06T22:14:13-06:00
ID
125266
Comment

If Ben is about to do what I think he's about to do, kudos to him. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-06T22:19:48-06:00
ID
125267
Comment

which is?

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-02-06T22:23:27-06:00
ID
125268
Comment

Your JFP analogy. Sorry, wrong word.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T22:23:45-06:00
ID
125269
Comment

There may be a silver lining here: the staggering hubris and incompetence of Melton and his flunkies has the potential to unite metro area residents of all stripes --left and right, black and white, urban and suburban-- under the aegis of reclaiming Jackson from this . . . this . . . What to call it? "Third world paramilitary junta?" Hmm . . . I was going for comic hyperbole there, but it's actually a pretty fair characterization, no? What with the gun toting chief executive, the rampant cronyism, the flouting of the rule of law, etc? (Is it me, or does this whole thing have a sort of Lord of the Flies feel to it? As in, you half expect the grown ups to show up any minute and be like, what in the holy hell happened here?) Ranting aside, Melton has the capacity to inflict serious permanent damage on Jackson and the surrounding communities, both via poor policy choices and by creating the (accurate) impression that city government is run by dilettantes and incompetent cronies, and thus, can't be trusted as a serious partner in revitalization efforts. I hope you guys will remain vigilant in exposing all the gruesome details. I also hope that, now that the Melton quick fix has failed so miserably, suburbanites and city folks will appreciate the need to have an extended, sober conversation about the long, hard process of getting Jackson back on its feet. (And I hope you're keeping detailed notes. If so, start writing the tell-all expose' now. You'll be millionaires; you can't make up a story like this.)

Author
laughter
Date
2007-02-06T22:26:23-06:00
ID
125270
Comment

I agree, LTG. And this is brilliant: (Is it me, or does this whole thing have a sort of Lord of the Flies feel to it? As in, you half expect the grown ups to show up any minute and be like, what in the holy hell happened here?) I'd offer that the more Melton got away with over the years, and the more local media cooed over him, endorsed him, and didn't tell the whole story, the more arrogant he got about what he could get away with. Ranting aside, Melton has the capacity to inflict serious permanent damage on Jackson and the surrounding communities, both via poor policy choices and by creating the (accurate) impression that city government is run by dilettantes and incompetent cronies, and thus, can't be trusted as a serious partner in revitalization efforts. Right on. I hope you guys will remain vigilant in exposing all the gruesome details. ... And I hope you're keeping detailed notes. We will, and we are. ;-) It is important, all, to remember that overblown crime sensationalism and really bad media put us here. Melton never would have gotten his toehold (stranglehold?) on the city had we had good reporting leading to clear thinking. Once we've survived this disaster period, we need to take that lesson with us into the city's future.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T22:40:38-06:00
ID
125271
Comment

And maybe it's Ben Allen's "Lord of the Flies" moment. Time to play grown-up on behalf of the city. Fortunately, Crisler, Barrett-Simon and McLemore are already there.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-06T22:41:42-06:00
ID
125272
Comment

The LOTF comment was great! You know, I don't think the perception that the crime stats were cooked under Johnson will ever fade. It's an urban legend now, that snoops.com isn't going to debunk anytime soon. Despite the fact that he was implementing Maple-Linder, his chief had a plan, they were able to recruit new officers, and crime was going down the myth grew as media and leaders repeated those claims. If you really think Jackson was as over run with brazen "knuckle-heads" (as Allen says) three years ago the way it is today; you are lying to yourself, and you know it! Even Allen and Crisler confirmed that the criminals are much more out in the open then ever! If some politicians want to further this myth, then find a couple of whistle-blowers in the department, find a chief, offer a solution and the "world is yours!" I have no problem eating crow if a formal investigation proves otherwise. But, you have to do the investigation before you convict the accused! Innocent until proven guilty. Right?

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-06T23:18:55-06:00
ID
125273
Comment

I think what will finally tip Ben into action is appealing to a sense of order. Melton clearly is only providing chaos which widens by the minute. If nothing else, Ben's going to have to go against him because if left unchecked, he will destroy Jackson. Sad thing is, most people don't give a damn. Especially those who voted for Melton and continue to remain blind to his danger. Meltonites don't want to see the danger, they don't care about Jackson's future, they're just ready for more bread and circuses.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-06T23:24:41-06:00
ID
125274
Comment

If you really think Jackson was as over run with brazen "knuckle-heads" (as Allen says) three years ago the way it is today; you are lying to yourself, and you know it! Even Allen and Crisler confirmed that the criminals are much more out in the open then ever! me I should have looked at WAPT's website before I posted. "Report: Armed Robberies Skyrocket" Jackson's Comstat numbers showed an 83 percent increase in armed robberies, forcing the Jackson Police Department to beef up patrols. Ummm.... 83%! Is that a typo? Also, I just watched the video with the strong quotes from the council members about Melton pulling legal department. We may actually be near a tipping point.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-07T00:23:35-06:00
ID
125275
Comment

To follow on the desire to replace Donna. I would throw my hat in the ring, but I never really cared to color in the lines. Barring that, I played high school basket ball at a public school in Mississippi. Combine that skill ( I can't BELIEVE I have been leaving it off my resume) plus a bachelors degree and a soon to finish law degree, and I feel quite confident I am able to be the next basketball coach for any college or pro team. Better yet I should be the commissioner of the NBA, just give me a few months and you'll see.... Is it just me or does anyone else have the constant urge just to sream "What? WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? DID ANYONE ELSE HEAR THAT OR AM I GOING INSANE?" I am so continuously amazed at such outlandish statements that are constantly made by this Mayor that go uncalled that I am seriously beginning to doubt my ability to hear. Either I am hearing voices or the VAST majority of Jackson and all the media outlets (excluding the JFP) have last their collective Freaking minds. AGamma627

Author
AGamm627
Date
2007-02-07T00:38:55-06:00
ID
125276
Comment

Hey, why not me? After all, I'm clean, bright, and articulate! Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2007-02-07T02:41:22-06:00
ID
125277
Comment

Tom, You ARE a clean, articulate man... :)

Author
LawClerk
Date
2007-02-07T08:17:56-06:00
ID
125278
Comment

Pike, there are actually some problems with that WAPT report you linked. They give the impression that these are "new" ComStat numbers, but unfortunately, there is no such thing as new ComStat numbers. The last figures available, as far as I know, are from late October, when I calculated the increases in crime (it's the third part of the main story) after the city stripped off the very helpful delta-percentage column. You'll notice that the 83 percent (actually 82.9 percent) increase in armed robberies comes from this ComStat, which they actually stated on the air. (That is, they said it was from a ComStat from late October. They did not credit the JFP, but then maybe they got the same ComStat and made the calculations themselves.) The problem with their story is that they miss the story, which is that the police department stopped using ComStat altogether in November. There is little doubt in my mind that ComStat was a casualty of its own success in disseminating information about crime to the public. The figures showed an enormous surge in crime over last year. Now, the police department is releasing simple lists of crimes that are difficult to interpret. (More on this later.) The story WAPT missed is that ComStat's purpose was to distribute police resources ito areas of frequent crime. Without ComStat, I guess the police department will just use their best judgment on where to patrol. Let the murder of ComStat stand as a symbol for all that is wrong with the Melton administration. In the middle of a crime crisis, the police chief simply throws away one of her tools because it is politically embarrassing to the mayor.

Author
Brian C Johnson
Date
2007-02-07T10:47:53-06:00
ID
125279
Comment

In the middle of a crime crisis, the police chief simply throws away one of her tools because it is politically embarrassing to the mayor. And her willingness to do such a thing to help the mayor save face is EXACTLY why she is chief. And exactly why the public should demand that she step down. The cronyism is out of control here.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-02-07T10:52:18-06:00
ID
125280
Comment

Good points.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-07T11:44:09-06:00
ID
125281
Comment

In the words of Forest "Forest" Gump: STUPID IS: STUPID DOES Ben Allen came close to "Calling the Wolf Ugly" on yesterday. frank's whole administration is just one big moving accident going someplace to happen daily. Frank Melton has some very serious problems and there will be absolutely NO SENSE made of this NONSENSE. We need a vote of no confidence and a plan for recall. This Wolf in Wolf's clothing continues to let us know that he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If Bush and HIS ARMY truly want to set up a Democracy, he should invaded Jackson and topple KING MELTON.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-02-07T13:24:54-06:00
ID
125282
Comment

Ok, melton started out having a "Triple Bypass" on yesterday, he stated that he had a "Double Bypass." Can we say that on tomorrow it will be "Single Pass." and the day after that will be a simple "Pass?" We have a person running our city and he doesn't even know what kind of surgery he had or the management protocol. What this man needs is a LOBOTOMY ....oops, I think that he has already had that or he acts as if he has.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-02-07T14:14:15-06:00
ID
125283
Comment

I think he got two splints, and he's just playing this up. Either that, or he went off for some self "interdiction."

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-07T15:00:56-06:00
ID
125284
Comment

I meant "stents"

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-07T15:02:22-06:00
ID
125285
Comment

A lot of people don't believe he had a DOUBLE BYPASS! I am one of them. I wonder if we will ever know the truth.

Author
Fitz
Date
2007-02-07T16:50:19-06:00
ID
125286
Comment

A couple of Stents would make more sense. Anyone up to call the hospital and ask? :D

Author
Ironghost
Date
2007-02-07T18:53:19-06:00
ID
125287
Comment

Regarding the Crime Stats: When are they required by law to be reported to the FBI? Surely at that point they become 'public information'. I would think that the total violent crime statistics would have to be reported for 2006 during the first quarter of 2007.

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-08T07:24:10-06:00
ID
125288
Comment

Regarding the Legal Department for the City of Jackson: Don't most municipalities in Mississippi use local law firms for legal issues? Few other Mississippi cities/towns have their very own legal department. I believe some local law firms are volunteering service currently. In other words, does Jackson really need a full time legal department to run the City? And, does this department primarily engage in damage control?

Author
ChrisCavanaugh
Date
2007-02-08T07:30:20-06:00
ID
125289
Comment

Chris, you are right in that most other Miss cities outsource their attorneys, but that's probably because most of our cities are too small to support a full-time City Atty or Legal Department. It might be a better comparision as to whether most U.S. cities Jackson's size have on-staff attorneys or not. I would bet most of them do. But I'm definitely not opposed to outsourcing some city departments and functions to the private sector if it saves the taxpayers money and can be provided more efficiently.

Author
Jeff Lucas
Date
2007-02-08T09:11:46-06:00
ID
125290
Comment

AG Opinion A very good, limited, and interesting opinion which gives proper deference to city ordinance and declines the invitation from the city council for the AG to be the deus ex machina for a bumbling city council. Of particular note is the fact that the AG views the city attorney in Jackson as an executive department (don't agree with that even though I concede its in the ordinance) and that the AG also recognizes that the city's own ordinances provide relief. Worth a read. I still believe that the Council should simply get its own council, as needed under its own ordinances, but obviously it is after a saleried feifdom rather than a contracted attorney. A big part of the city council request centered on whether they could now get additional bond council, rather than SOE. The motive here, as usual, is probably less about a struggle for power than good ol pork barrel politics. I wonder what became of that pay out sheet showing who got paid what for the bond work SOE did on the convention center. Now that we know that the all knowing AG's office is not going to rescue us, and we know that no "special law" is apparently being offered in this session to allow the CC a permanent lawyer, can we PLEASE start asking the council to use its own process and ordinances to fix this problem? Here is one suggestion. Appoint special counsel, investigate the matter, subpoena SOE and get testimony as to what, exactly, she did to justify the fee. It it was too high, demand disgorgement. Here is my prediction. SOE will smartly refuse to do any more bond work. Yay. CC will appoint their choice of firm, who I suspect is already probably closely related to this matter, which will promptly give terms identical to SOE's. We pay anyway, and now have a large(r) rift between the CC and the CA. Gotta love it.

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2007-02-08T11:23:12-06:00
ID
125291
Comment

Link does not work, so... Dear Mr. Allen: Attorney General Jim Hood received your request for an official opinion and assigned it to me for research and response. In your letter of request, a copy of which is attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference, you describe the events leading to the approval of a contract ("Employment Agreement") between the City of Jackon ("City") and its current municipal attorney ("City Attorney"). You then pose a number of questions relating to the City's authority, the Employment Agreement, and the Jackson City Council's authority, which we will address seriatim. Prior to addressing your questions, it may be helpful to review the statutory provisions governing the issuance of official opinions by the Attorney General. Section 7-5-25 of the Mississippi Code authorizes the Attorney General to issue official opinions to designated public officers and employees on questions of law relating to their specific offices. In addition to providing advice on prospective matters, official opinions provide certain civil and criminal protections for public officers and employees who act in good faith in accordance with the directions of such opinions. Official opinions are not intended to address past actions of a requestor and are customarily limited to interpreting State law, as opposed to interpreting municipal ordinances and contract terms. Question 1.a. May the City of Jackson enter into a four-year employment agreement with its City Attorney, or would such an employment agreement violate the temporal limitation imposed by section 21-15-25 of the Mississippi Code and section 2-216(1) of the Ordinances of the City of Jackson? What is the longest employment agreement into which the City may lawfully enter with its City Attorney under the sections cited above? We have previously opined that section 21-15-25 is discretionary and there is no requirement that an attorney be appointed under this section. MS AG Op., Hewes (Mar. 29, 1993). It appears that, in lieu of proceeding under the appointment provisions of section 21-15-25, the City has established a legal department pursuant to the provisions of section 21-8-23. Under this alternative, the department head, in this instance the municipal attorney, is nominated by the mayor and confirmed by a majority vote of the city council. Although no separate written contract is required under section 21-8-23, the municipality has the discretion to enter into such an agreement, if it chooses to do so. By entering into such an agreement, the municipality may provide rights and benefits to the municipal attorney which are greater than those provided by law, but such rights and benefits may not exceed any limitations imposed by law. Whether such an agreement is in the best interests of a municipality is a matter to be determined by the governing authorities at the time the agreement is proposed and under consideration. Since the City has established a legal department pursuant to section 21-8-23, in lieu of making an appointment pursuant to section 21-15-25, the annual appointment provision contained in section 21-15-25 is not applicable to the City's Employment Agreement with the City Attorney. Absent statutory authority providing otherwise, municipal governing authorities may not bind their successors in office and contractual agreements would generally be limited to the term of office of the current municipal governing authorities. Any contracts extending beyond the current term of office are voidable at the option of the successors. MS AG Op., Horton (Feb. 10, 2006). To the extent that the Employment Agreement extends beyond the current term of office of the Mayor and City Council, the Employment Agreement would be voidable at that time at the option of the successor governing authorities. We do not opine regarding the validity or interpretation of municipal ordinances and, therefore, will not comment regarding the issue of whether the Employment Agreement violates section 2-216(1) of the City ordinances. MS AG Ops., Cockroft (May 18, 2001); Cruthird (Nov. 19, 1999). Question 1.b. What is the expiration of the Employment Agreement, and what steps need to be taken by the Mayor and/or City Council of the City of Jackson to appoint or reappoint the City Attorney upon such expiration date? This office does not interpret contracts by way of official opinion. Horton, supra. Section 21-8-23(2) and (3) provide that a director of a municipal department established pursuant to this section serves during the term of office of the mayor making the appointment and until the appointment and qualification of the director's successor.

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2007-02-08T11:24:34-06:00
ID
125292
Comment

Question 2. In light of these legal provisions [section 25- 15-25 of the Mississippi Code and sections 2-39 and 2-137 of the City Ordinances], may the City Council of the City of Jackson retain legal advisors separate from the City Attorney to provide legal advice to the Council concerning the legality, enforceability, and interpretation of the Employment Agreement? This office has previously opined that a city council has no authority to hire an attorney or other employees not specified in section 21-8-13 of the Mississippi Code. MS AG Op., Crisler (March 31, 2006). Question 3.a. Does section 21-15-25 allow additional compensation to be paid the City Attorney for work done in connection with future bond issues, even where the City Attorney is a full-time employee of the City of Jackson? As we noted in our response to Question 1.a., a municipality is not required to employ an attorney in the manner provided in section 21-15-25. However, the limitation on fees contained therein applies to any instances in which a municipality employs any attorney for the purposes of issuing or refunding bonds or drafting orders and resolutions in connection therewith. Section 21-15-25 prohibits the payment of additional compensation for bond related services "...where the regular contract of employment and compensation paid to the municipal attorney covers and includes services in connection with the issuing or refunding of bonds...". While we do not interpret the terms of the Employment Agreement, we note that paragraph 1.B. provides that bond-related work is "an additional service" and the "...City Attorney shall be compensated a reasonable compensation...". Question 3.b. If the answer to Question 3(a) is in the affirmative, is "reasonable compensation" as defined by section 21-15-25 determined by the factors enumerated in Rule 1.5 of the Mississippi Code of Professional Responsibility, or by other standards? If other legal standards control, please identify them. We limit our response to an interpretation of "reasonable compensation" as that term is used in section 21-15-25, which may or may not be the same as that used in the Employment Agreement. Section 1-3-65 provides: All words and phrases contained in the statutes are used according to their common and ordinary acceptation and meaning; but technical words and phrases according to their technical meaning. "Reasonable" is defined as being in accordance with reason; not extreme or excessive; moderate, fair; inexpensive; having the faculty of reason; possessing sound judgment. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th Ed. 2001). The factors enumerated in Rule 1. 5(a) of the Mississippi Code of Professional Responsibility include: time required, difficulty of questions, skill required, preclusion of other work, customary fees charged in the locale, amount involved, time limitations, nature and length of relationship with the client, experience and ability of attorney, and whether the fee is fixed or contingent. The factors enumerated in Rule 1.5(a) are consistent with the definition of "reasonable" as defined here. Since there appears to be no issue relating to the meaning of "compensation," we will not address it. Question 3.c. If the answer to Question 3(a) is in the affirmative, does "reasonable compensation" within the meaning of section 21-15-25 and the paragraph 1.B. of the Employment Agreement require the City to pay the City Attorney a fee not less than the fee paid to the bond counsel employed for the bond issue, regardless of the nature or quality of the services the City Attorney actually provides for such bond issues? As noted above, we do not opine as to the interpretation or requirements of the Employment Agreement. Section 21-15-25 authorizes the payment of reasonable compensation subject to the maximum of one percent (1%) of the amount of bonds issued or refunded. In our response to Question 3.b., we discussed the meaning of "reasonable compensation" as that term is used in section 21-15- 25. Question 3.d. If the answer to Question 3(a) is in the affirmative, is the fact that the Employment Agreement obligates the City to defend and indemnify the City Attorney from legal malpractice claims in connection with work done on bond issues, thereby reducing or eliminating the City Attorney's liability exposure, a factor that may properly be taken into account in determining reasonable compensation for work done by the City Attorney in issuing or refunding bonds? As previously stated, we do not opine as to the interpretation or requirements of the Employment Agreement. Question 4.a. If the City and the City Attorney are unable to agree on "reasonable compensation" for work done in connection with bond issues, is the City Attorney obligated to perform the work faithfully and promptly in any event, reserving for later decision the question of any additional compensation to be paid for the work? Your question requires an interpretation of the Employment Agreement provisions, which for the reasons stated above, we are unable to do so by way of official opinion. Question 4.b. If the City Attorney refuses to perform work on a bond issue because of any lack of advance agreement on additional compensation to be paid for the work, does the City have the right under the Employment Agreement and sections 21-8-23 and 25-15-25 of the Mississippi Code of 1972 to employ another attorney to do the work? Section 21-15-25 clearly contemplates and authorizes a municipality to employ additional attorneys for bond-related work, regardless of the method of appointment of the regular municipal attorney and any action or inaction thereof. Very truly yours,

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2007-02-08T11:24:48-06:00
ID
125293
Comment

My guess is the AG opinion on SORE's contract wasn't favorable to the council either. I hope I am wrong! me Oh well.... I was wrong. There may be one or two places in the opinion that allow the council some wiggle room; but, not much. BTW: Thanks for posting that Niles since our City isn't.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T11:54:55-06:00
ID
125294
Comment

I mean I wasn't wrong.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T11:55:58-06:00
ID
125295
Comment

A little more on this. The opinion holds that the city attorney is a department of the city, presenting this as alternative to the appointment process outlined in 21-15-25. I find no legal authority or precedent which indicates that such an "election" is permissible. In fact, 2-216 specifically references 21-15-25, not 21-8-13. The ordinance refers to the city attorney as a "department" but clearly contemplated that 21-15-25 governed this "Department." Obvioulsy, the drafters of the ordinance assumed 21-15-25 governs the city attorney, department or not. Not so... says the AG. "It appears that, in lieu of proceeding under the appointment provisions of section 21-15-25, the City has established a legal department pursuant to the provisions of section 21-8-23. Under this alternative, the department head, in this instance the municipal attorney, is nominated by the mayor and confirmed by a majority vote of the city council." and again....... "Since the City has established a legal department pursuant to section 21-8-23, in lieu of making an appointment pursuant to section 21-15-25, the annual appointment provision contained in section 21-15-25 is not applicable to the City's Employment Agreement with the City Attorney." So, according to the AG, a city can "elect" to have 21-15-25 applicable. What is going on, of course, is taht 21-15-25 was never seen to apply to a large municipality, which would have a legal "department" like any other big entity. You can see this easily in the statutory text and history. For example, 21-15-39 (the section that makes 21-15-25 generally applicable) only expressly enumerates the Charter, Special Charter, or Commission forms. This provision, however, predates the council forms in the Code (they were added started in 1942). § 21-15-39 was was not subsequently amended. Thus, the actual statute purporting to apply 21-15-25 to the Mayor-Council form of government does not really do that. Compare this with 21-8-41 which expressly states that general municipal law is applicable if not contradicted by the specific form of governence. Obviously, either the legislature simply forgot to amend 21-15-39 to include the later added forms, or everyone just assumed that only smaller towns, i.e. code charter, special charter, etc, would be utillizing 21-15-25. Well and good, because under this AG opinion it does not matter because 21-15-25 does not apply anyway. Unfortunately, however the opinion then goes on to state that the dual compensation for bond work does apply: "Section 21-15-25 authorizes the payment of reasonable compensation subject to the maximum of one percent (1%) of the amount of bonds issued or refunded." Wait a second, I thought Jackson had "selected" to proceed under 21-8-23 "in lieu" of 21-15-25? So 21-15-25 should have no relevance on "reasonable" fees, right? Clear as mud. What is clear is that if 21-15-25 does not apply, then there is no authority whatsoever for what is "reasonable". I say that the "reasonable" compensation for a city department head is her salary. What is also very clear is 21-8-13 (4) The council, in addition to such other powers and duties as may be conferred upon it by this chapter or otherwise by general law, may require any municipal officer, in its discretion, to prepare and submit sworn statements regarding his official duties, and otherwise to investigate the conduct of any department, office or agency of the municipal government. Equally clear is Jackson M. Code 2-39 The council can conduct investigations as authorized by law of any department, office or agency under its jurisdiction. This power includes the authority to compel attendance of witnesses, and the production of books and papers. The purpose of such investigations and any limitations thereon shall be specified in the motion calling for the investigation. The conduct of the investigation shall be determined by a majority vote of the council. The council may by a majority vote retain auditors, legal advisors or consultants, or such other professional staff as may be necessary to conduct complete investigations.

Author
Niles Hooper
Date
2007-02-08T13:55:59-06:00
ID
125296
Comment

Oh, good! I was wrong. I think? Darn lawyers! Investigate? Ya right. And, turn this into a media circus. Oh, that's right you can't have a media circus unless it is an issue you are behind like Ramey Ford, SORE's contract, and now the fact that Melton finally did to the Council what he's been doing to your citizens for 2 years when he pulled Legal. Glad to see it is happening. It's just a wrong though that nothing was done until it finally affected some of those who originally stood by as Melton usurped the rights of the citizens with his unbridled power urges.

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-08T14:42:22-06:00
ID
125297
Comment

"The new department, called the Neighborhood Enhancement Department, would merge Public Works with Parks and Recreation to focus on city beautification, especially litter removal, pothole repair and park maintenance." If the new department merges two departments making Ford the head. Why do we need Melvin? We could make the current Public Works Director a consultant to Ford, and save money.

Author
optimisticaboutNewJackCity
Date
2007-02-08T16:45:28-06:00
ID
125298
Comment

Here's a city council that Melton can work with!

Author
pikersam
Date
2007-02-09T10:05:35-06:00

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