HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Mississippi House bill would allow city councils to hire their own legal counsel and financial advisers.
Rep. Toby Barker said he introduced House Bill 1430 to make sure city councils have experts to go to on a regular basis to help them make the best decisions for the city. Hattiesburg City Council President Kim Bradley agreed.
"I think that there comes those times when you have to get a second opinion or you have to get some more ears to listen to help council, to help advise, and that's simply what the bill is about," Bradley said. "We need, our council has needed attorneys. We've needed financial advice."
However, Mayor Johnny DuPree said he doesn't understand why a council would need its own legal or financial adviser when cities already employ attorneys and financial experts.
"That city attorney is the city attorney, and that city attorney is recommended by me and ratified by the council," DuPree said. "That city attorney is already employed with the city. The chief financial officer is already employed by the city. Already works for the city. And so now the legislation is to hire an attorney just for the council and a CFO or financial adviser just for the council."
Bradley said, "I think sometimes, being on this council in our situation here in Hattiesburg, we did have a city attorney, but the city attorney was not, I didn't feel, totally representing the city's best interest. Certainly not the council's best interest."
DuPree said he's heard the bill's proponents argue the extra experts will help decision-making, but he disagrees.
"People talk about gridlock," DuPree said. "You're really talking about gridlock to have a city attorney and then have an attorney representing the council. That's putting two attorneys with differing opinions, probably, trying to represent the same entity. How do you do that? Who do you really represent? Do you represent the council? Do you represent the administration? Do you represent the citizens of Hattiesburg?"
Bradley said, "We have gotten some bad advice. We've gotten some bad information in the past, been mislead in the past. We need, the council needs to know that there's somebody there that's looking out for our interest as well, not just the administration, but looking out for our interest as well."
DuPree also said the legislation would completely alter Mississippi city councils' powers.
"If this passes, then what you've done, effectually, is change the mayor-council form of government," Dupree said. "Those are the kinds of legislations that are not productive, and they're not for the greater good of the citizens that we all represent. My council attempted at one point in time to hire a financial adviser, to hire an attorney, and because of the mayor-council form of government, is not allowed. They're only allowed to hire a council clerk and hire an auditor for the annual audit."
Bradley said, "In the case we had this disagreement about the city hiring an internal auditor, I know it was a stretch on behalf of the council. We do have the authority to hire an accounting firm to do the annual audit, but not to go in and to check on a day to day basis the practices and policies of how we do business as far as taking money."
Bradley said he thinks having the extra advice, particularly when making financial decisions for the city, would be beneficial.
"When you take our wastewater, our water and sewer business, and you take our city business (it's) $100 million in revenues and expenses. We're voting on things every week. I think we need some help sometimes. We do."
DuPree said hiring these experts would be an extra expense, and said he isn't sure the cost outweighs the benefit.
"There is the financial aspect of it," DuPree said. "So you're going to pay for two attorneys and two financial people?"
But Bradley said having experts on hand would help the council make better decisions.
"I think there's ways that we could do better, and that's why I think this bill should come through the house and through the senate. It's an awfully big financial, legal burden that's on each of the council members, and we want to be sure that we have the right information to make the decisions that we need to make."
Rep. Barker said the being worked on and some changes are likely. He said the bill is still on the House calendar, but said all House business is delayed because of last week's stall.