High Springs will continue with its current city attorney after Commissioner Linda Jones brought forward an item that questioned the relationship and sought additional legal advice.
On Monday, the commission voted 3-2 against a motion that would have issued a request for proposals for a new city attorney. Commissioner Katherine Weitz made the motion and joined Jones in the affirmative. Scott Walker of Folds Walker, LLC. has served as city attorney since 2012.
Jones added the item to the Sept. 8 meeting. She cited slow response time causing issues to stack up, lack of preparation during a presentation on the Bridlewood development, disagreement of the city’s rights in a mural ordinance and turnover at Folds and Walker, LLC.
“Mr. Walker spends a great deal of time explaining the constitution to us, but we all know that the constitution can be interpreted differently by many attorneys,” Jones said on Sept. 8.
In August, Lake City approved a contract with Folds Walker, LLC. to serve as city attorney in tandem with another law firm, Robinson, Kennon & Kendron, P.A. The two firms pitched the joint effort to gain the expertise of both firms.
Jones said she would like to pursue a similar relationship, giving the city more legal muscle and perspectives. That initial plan changed to replacing Folds Walker, LLC. with a new law firm by the end of Monday’s meeting.
Staff clarified Weitz’s motion, asking if she intended the new attorney to be additional or a replacement.
Walker responded to the claims. He said the firm would take feedback and look to improve where possible.
“We did look, since January of this year, at our records and we’ve worked over 70 projects for the city,” Walker said at the Sept. 8 meeting. “So, to say that we’re not doing anything I think is a misnomer.”
Walker admitted that on some projects the law firm could have been more proactive in following up with the city and said the firm will take the critique to improve its services. He said the firm wants to increase its points of contact with the city to ensure someone sees a request quickly and has taken steps to make that happen.
The firm doesn’t have a turnover problem, Walker added. He pointed to several workers within the firm that had stayed for decades. He said that two attorneys had left because of offers from large firms across the country, but he said that shows the talent of Folds and Walker’s employees.
Walker said as soon as Adrea Parker, who attended High Springs meetings for the firm, left for St. Louis, he filled the spot and had attended every meeting.
Walker also serves as city attorney for the cities of Newberry, Micanopy and Archer.
The commission postponed the issue on Sept. 8 for staff to review the contract with Folds Walker to see what options the city would have to bring on another firm.
On Monday, Walker advised the commission that the way for the city to bring an additional law firm would be through a request for proposal of whatever time or scope the majority requests.
He added that the 2016 contract contains a 3% increase per year to offset the cost of living that hadn’t been added since the start. Walker said the firm would like that increase to be maintained going forward.
“I think at this point, the city of High Springs’ needs eclipse the capabilities or the staff that they have,” Weitz said.
She put forward the motion, seconded by Jones, but the other commissioners disagreed.
Weitz and Jones also formed the dissenting bloc for a motion later in the meeting that increased the salary for commissioners and the mayor.
An initial motion by Jones, seconded by Weitz, to keep the salaries the same failed with the other three commissioners dissenting. A follow-up motion by Commissioner Ross Ambrose allowed a 3% increase to the salaries.
The current salaries sit at $900 a month for commissioners and $1,000 for the mayor. Those salaries have stayed put for around 10 years, according to Ambrose. He said the salaries actually received a cut around a decade ago.
The increase will place the commissioner salary at $927 a month and the mayors at $1,030. The increase, already accounted for in the budget, will total $1,656 a year.
Mayor Byran Williams said the approval now will prevent a bigger jump in the future.
“I think we should start making little, small increases as we go along. It just makes sense to me,” Williams said.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the commission approved a $2.3 million loan to finance the installation of new advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
The loan will close later this month and includes a 15-year term with a 3.2% interest rate. City staff said the financing has already been included in next year’s budget.
Weitz asked if the city could look for a smaller loan and split funding with general government funds. But a new loan would require a new request for proposals.
Weitz said the amount of interest would add up over the term even if the city paid off the loan early as it plans.
The city expects to recover a little over $500,000 every year in savings from the AMI system, according to Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham. The AMI switch would then pay for itself in a couple of years in spite of the interest, and the city can pay off the loan early.
The commission approved the load 4-1 with Weitz in dissent.
The annual millage rate also got a final vote and will be set at 5.99 mills. The rate is the same as last year and 8.2% higher than the rolled-back rate of 5.5251— the rate at which the city would earn the same amount of money as last year.