City records show Brookhaven has spent nearly $200,000 on attorneys’ fees since incorporating in December.
Some residents have complained that the city was getting involved in legal fights too early in its existence, particularly regarding a high-profile lawsuit with the Pink Pony strip club. Residents have spoken out against the city’s legal bills at City Council meetings. One group of neighbors even commissioned a telephone poll to prove that residents don’t approve.
But the city’s legal expenses so far have been well below the $425,400 budgeted to pay 2013 legal bills.
City Attorney Bill Riley’s law firm, Riley McLendon, was paid $151,809 through the month of August, according to records obtained under the state Open Records Law.
Much of the information on the firm’s invoices was redacted by the city, but show Riley charged for several different kinds of work. Riley receives a $15,000 monthly fee as city attorney. He also bills the city for litigation, land acquisition, and for his work as solicitor for Brookhaven’s municipal court.
Riley got involved with Brookhaven early on, as a pro bono attorney for the Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven, before the city officially began operating on Dec. 17. The commission was appointed to help set up the city before a mayor and council were elected.
Brookhaven City Council appointed Riley as interim city attorney at the council’s first official meeting Dec. 10.
The other attorney the city has paid this year is Scott Bergthold. Bergthold, a Chattanooga attorney who specializes in regulating adult businesses, helped the city draft the sexually-oriented business ordinance that caused the Pink Pony to sue the city.
Records show that Bergthold billed the city for work on the sexually-oriented business ordinance on Dec. 4, before the mayor and City Council held their first meeting. Bergthold’s invoice from January lists work beginning Dec. 4. Councilman Jim Eyre was the only Brookhaven council member to be elected on Nov. 6. The other elections were not decided until a Dec. 4 runoff.
Eyre said Riley began working on ordinances to present to the council before the elections because of the short window of time between seating the council and the city’s launch.
“He was involved in pulling that stuff together early on, so when we were in a group we could start acting on some of those things,” Eyre said.
The city adopted all of DeKalb County’s ordinances on Dec. 17, and shortly after, city officials began to discuss replacing the county’s adult business regulations with their own.
Eyre said Bergthold has been working with the city since its first days. “Bill brought him in as an expert advisor or consultant,” Eyre said.
According to city records, Brookhaven has paid Bergthold $39,942 through the month of August.
Eyre said he expected there would be additional costs during the start-up phase, and he feels comfortable with the city’s first-year legal expenses.
“Having been involved with a number of start-up companies, I’ve seen how quickly legal bills can add up,” Eyre said. “I had in my mind that we would have more in the first year than we would going forward because of all the work we need to do getting ordinances in place.”
Bob Mullen, a spokesman for the city of Dunwoody, said that city spent $277,139 in 2009, its first year in business. The sum included the annual salary for the city attorney, the monthly retainer fees for the law firm of Riley McLendon, and all litigation from the city’s first year, Mullen said. During its first fiscal year, Sandy Springs spent $563,853 on legal services.