A divided Brookhaven City Council voted to hire an interim city attorney on Friday and immediate put him to work giving counsel on recent council actions.
The council initially split 2-2 on Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams’ appointment of Christopher D. Balch as the new interim city attorney. Williams then broke the tie with a vote in support of hiring Balch.
Balch replaces former City Attorney Tom Kurrie, who resigned earlier in the week. Williams said at the time that Kurrie resigned because “it was clear the majority of council was quite unhappy and dismayed at his handling of recent open records cases.”
Balch told the council he was “honored and humbled by your confidence.”
Williams said Balch had been recommended by the counsel for the Georgia Municipal Association as well as by other lawyers. “I think he has the sturdy moral compass to help us restore [confidence] in our city,” she said.
Williams also said the city needed to move quickly on the appointment because Kurrie’s resignation took effect at the end of the day Friday and if no appointment was made, the city would have no lawyer.
“I believe that Chris Balch has exactly what we need here,” Councilwoman Linley Jones said. “He’s a rare find and we’re lucky to have him.”
But two members of the council — Bates Mattison and John Park — said they were concerned that the interim appointment had no fixed end point. Mattison said the city’s first “interim” city attorney held the job for about two years. Mattison also said the council should take more time to consider the appointment.
“We created a crisis here in which we forced the resignation of [Kurrie] …,” Mattison said. “I’d like for us to really deliberate on who our interim city attorney is. It’s not good policy to move so quickly on the appointment of the interim city attorney.”
After the 3-1 vote to hire Balch, with Mattison and Park voting against, the council immediately began seeking his advice.One question involved whether the council unintentionally had not followed proper procedures when Williams was elected mayor on June 9. Balch said he thought the procedure was acceptable, but the council asked him to report by the July 7 council meeting on what options the council had, including a repeat of the election and a revote on all actions taken since. Council members also wanted to seek an opinion from the Georgia Attorney General’s office.
“We want this issue buttoned up,” Williams said. “We don’t want any questions.”
The council also decided to ask City Solictor Tim Tanner to rescind his resignation from the job. Tanner, a member of the same law firm as Kurrie, submitted his resignation the day after Kurrie submitted his, Williams said during the meeting