12/20/17 — Council bickers over attorney

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Council bickers over attorney

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on December 20, 2017 5:50 AM

The Goldsboro City Council clashed Monday night with Councilman Bevan Foster telling Mayor Chuck Allen he overstepped his authority during a discussion about the city attorney.

Councilman Antonio Williams also told Councilman David Ham and Councilman Bill Broadaway they couldn't vote on a contract for legal services due to their friendship with the city attorney.

The council was presented with a one-year contract for legal services with attorney Ronald Lawrence, effective Jan. 1, during a Monday work session.

The contract was presented following a decision by attorney James Womble to retire from his role in representing the city on Dec. 31.

Allen said the contract was needed to secure legal representation after the first of the year. The contract allows termination by either party, with a 90-day notice, and pays Lawrence $150 per hour.

Womble and Lawrence both work in the Everett, Womble and Lawrence law firm, which has provided legal representation for the city since the 1970s, Womble said.


Foster and Williams spoke in opposition to the contract, with Foster saying attorney Justin Minshew, within the same law firm, is a better fit because of his expertise with municipal law. Williams said he wanted the position advertised, with other attorneys having a shot at the job.

"The issue that I have is we need a fresh set of eyes," Williams said. "I have a problem with us not letting other attorneys come in and get an opportunity to bid this particular job."

Allen said the city could seek other representation, after approving the contract, if the council decided to go another route.

"Ron has more practical experience," Allen said. "You're hiring the whole firm so I'm not real sure what your point (is). That firm has a deep niche, just all across the spectrum (and is) what we need."

At one point, Allen looked at Broadaway and suggested he make a motion, which led to backlash from Foster.

"That's not proper," Foster said. "That's not proper for a mayor to be doing and -- see -- that's part of the problem of why you shouldn't be voting because of stuff like that. So, that just shows how you really are."

"That's your opinion," Allen replied. "I don't know why we're discussing this anymore."

Foster's comments were related to his opposition to the mayor being a voting member of the council, a role Foster asked be changed. Earlier during the work session, the council voted 5-2 to allow the mayor to remain a voting member of the council. Foster and Williams voted in opposition.


Foster also asked if it was even necessary to have a contract.

"Quit going around the tree," Broadaway said.

In years past, the city has not contracted with an attorney but regularly appointed an attorney to represent the board, as required by law, said Scott Stevens, city manager.

Before a motion was made to vote on the contract, Williams questioned the relationship of Broadaway and Ham with Womble.

"Before you make a motion, I just want clarity from Councilman Ham and Councilman Broadaway," Williams said. "Do you have a friendship with attorney Womble? Because if you do, then you can't vote on this issue. You have to recuse yourself.

Broadaway said he is friends with a "bunch of lawyers in town."

"That's an extraneous argument," Broadaway said.

Ham said he is friends with Womble.

Councilman Mark Stevens said he's also friends with Womble, as well as other attorneys and questioned why his relationship wasn't challenged.

"I don't have to recuse myself because I'm friends with Mr. Womble and ... several others?" Stevens said. "OK, I'm not friends with nobody. I'm a joke, really? What else am I?"

Stevens ended the discussion.

"I make a motion that we make Mr. Lawrence the city attorney," Stevens said.

On Tuesday, Womble said Broadaway and Ham did not need to recuse themselves from the vote, since neither had a conflict of interest that would result in either profiting financially from the decision. Womble said he's known the two councilmen for years and has more of a professional relationship with other members of the council.

"I've been friends with Bill Broadaway and David Ham for many years, back before they even thought of running for office," Womble said. "They're members of my church. I've known both of them a long time."

Council members need to recuse themselves from a vote if the matter being voted on provides a financial benefit to the council member or a member of their family, Womble said.

Womble also said the mayor has the same ability to make a motion or suggest a motion, just like any other member of the council, according to the city's charter.


During the council's Monday meeting, other decisions include:

* Establishing a capital project fund ordinance for a $6.2 million Clean Water State Revolving loan to pay for phase four of the city's sewer collection rehabilitation project.

* Paying an additional $41,200 to Ferguson Waterworks for 200 larger water meter boxes for commercial locations, as part of a citywide $4.7 million water meter replacement project.

* Increasing the city workforce to 459 employees by adding a full-time public information officer.

* Increasing the number of days off for Christmas from two to three for city employees.