06/06/04 — Legal fees cost city more than expected

View Archive

Legal fees cost city more than expected

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 6, 2004 2:02 AM

The city of Goldsboro has spent $160,221 in legal fees this year, $7,000 more than budgeted for the entire fiscal year, and there are still two months left in the fiscal year.

Legal fees for the 2003-2004 budget were supposed to total $153,000. That included a $60,000 annual fee for City Attorney Harrell Everett, $91,544 for additional legal fees and $1,456 for annexation fees.

All of the money has gone to Everett or other lawyers in his firm, Everett, Womble, Finan & Lawrence.

Everett has received $111,699 of the $160,000 and is due at least another $10,000 before the end of the June. City Manager Richard Slozak said that Everett receives $5,000 per month, for which he submits bills.

Everett has always met the $5,000, and usually performed legal services above that amount, the city manager said.

James Womble, a partner in Everett's law firm, received $28,987. Three other lawyers in the firm recieved lesser amounts: Darrell Brown, $12,215; Timothy Finan, $4,455, and Ronald Lawrence, $2,863.

Legal services provided by Womble include title searches, lawsuits, transportation issues, and work related to demolition. Almost $14,000 of the $28,987 was for work related to utility assessments.

Brown concentrates mainly on lawsuits pertaining to real estate and some code violations, while Lawrence handles cases associated with the state League of Municipalities. Finan only handles police-related matters.

Everett has received $52,124 during this fiscal year for a category called miscellaneous legal work.

In addition he received $5,183 for fees associated with Project Homestead, a subsidized housing initiative. He has been paid $4,077 for work on the new zoning ordinance; $2,914 for personnel issues, and $1,447 for civic center work.

Other legal services billed by Everett included work with the Board of Adjustment, Workers Compensation cases, right-of-way issues, accidents, lawsuits and grease trap violations.

Everett began working for the city in 1972 as an associate city attorney, for a salary of $200 a month.

In 1974 the City Council passed a resolution appointing Everett to the position of city attorney, "at an annual salary of $12,918" per year.

Other than that 30-year-old half-page resolution, there is no contract or paperwork documenting an agreement to use the other members of Everett's firm for legal services.

The City Council gave Everett increases in his basic annual fee over the years as it passed the city budget. Slozak said the increases were put directly in the city attorney's budget, so no additional paperwork was needed.

Council members asked Slozak to learn what lawyers in nearby towns were being paid, and he presented the survey results to them last week.

Kinston, Greenville and Jacksonville have staff lawyers, while Rocky Mount and Wilson have a contractual agreement with a firm, similar to Goldsboro's, Slozak said. Slozak said that Kinston pays $250,000; Greenville, $286,589 and Jacksonville $121,181 in legal fees.

Rocky Mount pays $170,000 and Wilson pays $160,000.

Those costs include not only the legal fees, but associated costs such as travel, subscriptions, and phone service.

Goldsboro's 2004-2005 budget for all costs associated with the city attorney is projected to be $191,459.