City changing lawyers

Friday, June 25, 2010
Lewisburg City Attorney Bill Haywood, right, the man who's been legal counsel for the city for a decade and who prosecutes criminal cases in City Sessions Court, was released on Tuesday, but he's agreed to serve until a successor is found.

With a split vote Tuesday, the Lewisburg City Council decided to release the city attorney and find one who will work for nearly half the pay.

The 3-2 vote on the attorney's job came after councilmen unanimously adopted an annual budget starting July 1. The $8.66 million spending plan appropriates $24,000 for a city attorney.

That annual salary is what a Fayetteville-based lawyer will want if he does the job, according to his letter to Lewisburg leaders. Bill Haywood has served as city attorney here for nearly a decade and is being paid about $48,000 this year.

Discussion on Haywood's employment came in two parts, although there wasn't much difference. One was before he arrived at the special called meeting. The other was after he arrived. The first was about the appropriation for legal counsel. The second included his remarks on his reaction to the lower appropriation.

City Recorder Connie Edde, who also serves as treasurer, pointed out that a new budget starts July 1. "We have an attorney paid at $46,000 now and it goes to $24,000. You make the decision."

The attorney, recorder and city manager work at the pleasure of the council.

"We have to see what he will do," Councilman Ronald McRady said.

Mayor Barbara Woods told Haywood on June 11 that there was a consensus on June 10 to slash the appropriation for legal counsel, and that there might not be a majority of councilmen who want to keep him as city attorney. June 14, Haywood wrote to councilmen saying he was willing to continue at $24,000. On the evening of June 16, Haywood said he was weighing his options; considering the prospect of earning more than $24,000 annually with the time that he'd been spending as city attorney.

Fuller noted Haywood's letter said he'd continue for $24,000. McRady responded: "That's his official response," and members of the council noted Haywood's absence.

"That tells me a lot, right there," Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart said.

McRady: "The Charter says the attorney must attend all meetings. Do we want to accept his request?"

Councilman Robin Minor said he wanted "to keep him on at $24,000."

McRady asked, "How serious is he on this job?"

"I've known Bill all my life," McRady said, "but we're talking business."

The council had been trimming expenditures throughout the budget in what proved to be a successful effort to prevent a property tax rate hike.

A few more remarks were made and then Haywood walked in about 17 minutes after the meeting started. He was asked what he planned to do.

"I've thought about it," Haywood said. "Based on what I do, I can't ... go that low -- if that helps you...

"I'm not going to resign," he said. "I'm not willing to go that low"

McRady noted the budget appropriation for the position. Stewart said, "I'm OK with the way it is" planned.

Haywood repeated himself. The job can't be done for $24,000. Last week he indicated he does not believe the city can get adequate service from another lawyer for that price and that competent counsel coming on board probably should be paid $100,000, although the remark was during a phone call including references to remarks that councilmen might some day be considering the prospect of a full-time attorney. Haywood maintains a private law office about a block from the public square.

"We have to make a decision," McRady said. Stewart noted the $150 per month paid to councilmen "to make those big decisions."

Discussion turned to other aspects of the annual budget. That led to its approval, a couple of other votes on cemetery rules and a land use request.

Tuesday's meeting was advertised as a special called meeting for those three purposes.

The attorney's job wasn't one of the three, but Stewart suggested that "anything pertaining to the budget" could be discussed and put to a vote.

In some sense, Haywood's job was no longer an issue, but he's also one of only three officials employed by the council.

"Mr. Haywood," Stewart said to the attorney, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel like we have a choice" given the budget and his stated preference for his same salary.

McRady seconded Stewart's motion to dismiss Haywood.

"However this vote falls, there's nothing personal," Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr. said.

Before the decision was finalized with Councilmen Minor and Hershel Davis voting no, Police Chief Chuck Forbis said, "Obviously we have City Court in July."

Haywood responded, "I'll be willing to do it at $24,000 (a year) until the council can replace me... within reason."

Mayor Barbara Woods thanked Haywood "for helping us out until this is resolved." Comments then indicated Haywood's service probably wouldn't continue after July.

"We should probably meet to set up interviews," Stewart said and Whitehead asked about procedures. "It's a professional service," she replied with respect to state law that permits Tennessee governments to hire lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants and others in professional occupations that require higher education.

"We need to advertise it," McRady said.

Stewart added that the city shouldn't go six months without an attorney and that announcements about the opening should include requirements listed in the Charter for the city attorney, especially that the individual be a licensed attorney.

Noon on July 23, a Friday, was set as the deadline for applications to be received at City Hall.

Four days later, on Tuesday July 27, the council is to meet at 4:30 p.m. to consider the applicants.

Before the council adjourned, the police chief spoke up on the prospect of a city attorney living 20-30 miles away, a factor implied by the letter from J. Stephen Broadway of Fayetteville. His letter to Lewisburg leaders started with the words, "Thank you for the interest in my possible employment." It was unclear exactly who he was thanking.

Forbis' point about the distance between Lewisburg and Fayetteville was that "It makes it more difficult" for police officers on the street in the middle of the night. "You can't handle case files over the phone."

After the meeting, Haywoods' friends and associates expressed regret for the chain of events.