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County needs contract for its attorney

Published 5:35pm Friday, October 12, 2012

There was much debate, discussion, and gnashing of teeth Tuesday at the Decatur County Board of Commissioner’s meeting, regarding the status of Brown Moseley, the county’s attorney.

Beginning with Commissioner Russell Smith making a motion to terminate the services of Moseley, the discussion — at times heated — led to a tie vote among the six commissioners, resulting in no action.

Smith’s motion, seconded by Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry, was based on Moseley’s fees, and Smith’s contention that the county is spending too much on legal representation.

The total billings cited by Smith and Perry, $174,000, in fact was over a longer period of time than just the past year. The county has spent roughly $66,000 over the past year on non-retainer, non-litigation related legal representation.

But, during the discussion, the commissioners and Moseley “laid all their cards on the table” and other issues need be considered.

The commissioners need to place a high priority on developing and executing a written contract with Moseley. There is no good explanation as to why the county’s relationship with Moseley has lasted eight years with no written agreement. Nothing good can result from the lack of a contract.

If for nothing else, a contract is a must simply to explain, in writing, the obligations and responsibilities of both the commissioners and Moseley. Supposedly, the county is to receive 50 hours of service from Moseley for the $3,000 monthly retainer amount, $60 per hour. After those initial 50 hours, Moseley’s fee is $100 per hour for general items and $125 for items relating to litigation.

But, no one has been able to produce a written document that spells out those terms. Doing business so loosely can do nothing but lead to problems.

And, while dealing with Moseley’s fees, the commissioners would be wise to ask that invoices submitted to the county from Moseley include much more detail. In the past 10 years that I have been responsible for the day-to-day operation of a newspaper, I have reviewed and approved many invoices from attorneys.

I have never seen legal service invoices as vague as the ones that Moseley submits. I reviewed each invoice from January to August 2012, eight in total, and each lacked the appropriate detail needed for the commission to effectively manage.

Listings such as “call from commissioner,” “call to commissioner,” and “file review” must include more detail.

You can review that August 2012 invoice submitted by Moseley by visiting www.thepostsearchlight.com.

Another point of contention among the commissioners is the fact that Moseley, although he is a contractor and not a county employee, utilizes an office in the county administration building.

I would strongly urge the commissioners to study and consider whether this arrangement is best. Moseley is employed with a private law practice based in Albany and is operating as a private lawyer in a public building. Decatur County is simply a client.

Moseley, in an interview with The Post-Searchlight on Tuesday, said the benefit of his office being located in the county’s business is that “things come to me, that if I were in another office up the street, probably wouldn’t.”

This benefit, as Moseley sees it, to having the attorney located in the administrative building could also be viewed as a negative. Anytime Moseley becomes involved in a conversation or answers a question, the result is billable hours.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Smith contended that these issues have been discussed many times prior in executive sessions, behind closed doors.

That brings up another issue that I have been critical of the commissioners in the past. There is no exemption to the Georgia Open Meetings Law that allows this discussion to be held behind closed doors. While they cite the personnel exemption to discuss Moseley’s arrangement, that exemption doesn’t apply. Moseley is simply not an employee of Decatur County; he is a contractor.

Each time the commissioners have discussed this behind closed doors, they have violated the Georgia Open Meetings Law.

I am not suggesting the commission should terminate Moseley or continue their relationship with Moseley. That should be a decision made by the six commissioners. However, I am suggesting that steps need to be taken, by both the commission and Moseley, to better the relationship and provide a clearer picture of the attorney’s activities.

PDF DOCUMENT: Decatur County Commmissioners invoice for contracted legal services provided by Brown Moseley for the month of August 2012

Please see also our related story: 3 of 6 commissioners vote to terminate county attorney

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