Daniel W. Lee was named the next Sandy Springs city attorney as of July 1, replacing Wendell Willard, the first and only person to hold the position thus far.

“Dan, I’ve known for 20 years,” said Mayor Rusty Paul, who appointed Lee to the position with unanimous City Council approval at its May 23 meeting. “I’ve seen his courage. I’ve seen his integrity. I’ve seen his independence.”

Daniel Lee, the next Sandy Springs city attorney. (Special)

Lee is a former state senator, as is Paul, and they served together in the early 2000s. Lee is currently a partner in the Atlanta office of Freeman Mathis & Gary, where his specialties include government law. He formerly served as solicitor general of Troup County.

In the city’s system, the city attorney is a mayor-appointed official who directs day-to-day legal services that are provided under a separate contract, possibly by another lawyer or law firm. That’s the current situation, with Willard as city attorney and the firm Riley McLendon providing staff attorneys. Willard is in the process of retiring. The plan is for Riley McLendon to continue providing the day-to-day services, though considering of other staffing changes is underway, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun.

Lee’s firm was among six bidders for the city attorney contract. Paul said he chose Lee based after talking to three of the six bidders, and because of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s experience in providing municipal law.

The unsuccessful bidders included: a joint bid from Riley McLendon and Burr & Forman, whose partners include former City Councilmember Chip Collins; Carol Clark Law; Hall Booth Smith; O’Daniel McDonald, the firm of former City Councilmember Graham McDonald; and Turner & Ross. The city conducted two rounds of bidding after the mayor said he wanted a deeper pool of choices.

Lee will work alongside Willard and with Riley McLendon for a few months in a transition period.

A contract also approved by the council May 23 pays Lee significantly less than Willard under a different structure. Willard was paid a monthly retainer amounting to more than $300,000 a year, plus $175 an hour for such work as representing the city in court. Lee is getting a higher hourly rate of $195 plus expenses, but no retainer, and there is an annual cap of $250,000 unless the city manager approves more.

Wendell Willard, the current Sandy Springs city attorney and House District 51 state representative. (Special)

The transition vote was a chance for the council to reflect on Willard’s contributions to the city and applaud him. Willard is also a state representative and shepherded the legislation that allow the city’s 2005 founding – the first incorporation of a city in the state in decades, which kicked off a widespread cityhood movement.

Councilmember Tibby DeJulio recalled working alongside Willard and the late Eva Galambos, the city’s founding mayor in forming Sandy Springs. He thanked Willard “on behalf of myself and my dear departed friend Eva.”

“It’s been a great voyage I’ve been with the city these past 11-and-a-half years,” Willard said.

Mayor Rusty Paul, left, and Daniel Lee at the May 23 meeting where Lee was named the next city attorney. (John Ruch)

All councilmembers also had met with Lee beforehand as part of the mayor’s appointment process, which also involved consulting city staff and several local attorneys.

Councilmember Andy Bauman – the only councilmember with a law degree — said he was impressed with Lee after discussing the city’s past and potential legal issues with him. “This is a big city with a lot of complex issues,” said Bauman, explaining that he liked Lee’s “candor” in the discussion.

Paul said another factor in selecting Lee was that “the current city attorney rated Dan as number one among the applicants.”

Asked later if he and Lee had worked together on any interesting legislation in the state Senate, Mayor Paul said with a laugh that they didn’t do much, as at the time, Paul was a Republican and Lee was a Democrat. Lee made a high-profile party switch to Republican in 2002.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that a bidding process is underway for the city’s day-to-day legal services, separately from Lee’s selection. In fact, the bidding process was for the city attorney position and the legal services contract remains in place.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.