Stockbridge Mayor vetoes extra legal funds

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

Stockbridge Mayor Tim Thompson released a statement last week saying that he would veto a recent City Council decision to provide for an additional $125,001 in legal fees.

“I have stated from day one that I will do what is in the best interest of the taxpayers of the city of Stockbridge,” he posted on his Facebook page. “The fees we currently pay for general legal services is excessive and unfair to the taxpayers. Please like and share if you support fiscal accountability in government. We need to hold our elected officials accountable.”

After spending $250,000 in all of 2013 for legal fees under the previous administration, Stock-bridge has spent nearly a million dollars since Thompson took office and half the council changed at the beginning of 2014.

City manager Michael Harris confirmed Friday that the total legal bill for 2014 was $582,264. Through August, the 2015 tab is $295,505. These numbers include general legal counsel, a settlement payment for former mayor Lee Stuart, fees for various investigations, and legal counsel associated with Down-town Development Authority issues and police services negotiations.

Ironically, many in the community connect the responsibility for sky-high legal costs directly to Thompson, who initiated the ongoing litigation against the DDA and whose firing of certain city employees led to lawsuits against the city. But the mayor defended all of his actions in a statement made directly to the Times and said he stands by them.

When asked what would be required to override the veto, Thompson cited a specific section of the city charter: “Ordinances vetoed by the mayor shall be presented by the city clerk to the city council at its next meeting and should the city council then or at its next general meeting adopt the ordinance by an affirmative vote of the entire council, it shall become law.”

None of the $125,001 increase approved by the council was earmarked toward the council’s ongoing investigation of Thompson for some of his actions over the past year and a half.

“Investigations are under a separate budget item,” Thompson stated, adding that investigations of him, council member Robin Buschman and former council member Richard Steinberg have added up to more than $56,000. The city has spent more than $23,000 to investigate Thomp-son not counting his own attorney fees, according to the mayor, whose annual salary is $10,400.

A couple of months ago the council voted to pay $59,999 toward Stuart’s legal fees and end his ongoing litigation against the city. Thompson did not vote on that issue because he only votes to break a tie, but he called in this case “the right decision was made by the council to avoid future legal issues and attorney fees.”

Thompson vigorously defended his own legal actions regarding the DDA as well as his dismissal of former employees Vickie Coleman and Anthony Brown, who at the time were the highest-ranking black employees in the city and filed EEOC actions as a result.

“I am responsible for spearheading and from day one supported the legal defense of the city and its citizens from the reckless conduct of the former council & the DDA in the months prior to my taking office to date,” the mayor stated. “The former administration gave away eight paid-for city owned properties as well as spent over $8 million of taxpayer dollars on nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors sales pitch at most. If any reasonable person reviewed the details of the entire chain of events relating to the DDA matter they too would surely come to the same conclusion.”

As for Coleman and Brown, “they both filed EEOC complaints against the city and the mayor. They were dismissed. Everyone has the right to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit after EEOC complaints are discharged. I stand by my decision on their terminations.”

Thompson acknowledged that a number of issues are attached to him because of the office he holds.

“I did not inherit a clean slate when I took office,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do some cleanup work before things can move forward.”