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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Aug. 26, 201412:00 PM EST

Council members seeking legislation for outside legal help

by: David Chapman

The on-again, off-again talks about City Council having its own legal counsel are back on.

Council members Bill Gulliford and Matt Schellenberg will meet Wednesday to discuss the legislative body having its own legal counsel on certain matters.

Schellenberg said there were disagreements with former General Counsel Cindy Laquidara, which led to conflicting information or contradictions.

The general counsel’s office covers all city government, but some members suggested she was too close with Mayor Alvin Brown’s office.

This idea of separate counsel isn’t about that, he insisted — there are no issues with acting General Counsel Jason Gabriel or others.

Instead, it’s about having

an independent voice and guidance for matters that cause a conflict.

He said the arrangement would be on an as-needed basis with an attorney or firm, similar to when council approved hiring GrayRobinson last year for advice on pension issues.

Under that agreement, the fees and expenses were capped at $65,000.

Gulliford said he’ll introduce legislation in the coming weeks.

Council President Clay Yarborough and member Bill Bishop have indicated they would sign on as co-sponsors, he said.

Like Schellenberg, Gulliford said it isn’t about the job the current general counsel is doing. Instead it’s about having the latitude on certain occasions to have an opinion from outside City Hall.

The charter allows it, he said, and the legislation would put into place the establishing framework.

As for funding, Gulliford said he didn’t have particulars, but there is a retained earnings account within the general counsel’s office that could be a


Schellenberg suggested it wouldn’t be more than $100,000, with a $75-per-hour rate. He said he doubted all the funding would be used in a year.

And, when the situation arises on a as-needed basis where a second opinion is needed, council shouldn’t hesitate to use the service, he said.

“Sometimes we need to have a second opinion,” he said. “It’s too important.”

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