Main Street Journal

How Memphis City Government is Spending Your Money on Lavish Attorney Fees


Joe Saino
The following is an excerpt from our November issue. Subscribe now.

By: Joe Saino

November is a very significant month for me as it was three years ago in November 2004 when I started on my journey of enforcing the Tennessee open records laws on a reluctant group of local government institutions and quasi government bodies. I started with the City of Memphis by requesting from Sara Hall the information about how much had Allan Wade and his law firm been paid by the City and by the City Council during the years 2003 and 2004.

Sara acknowledged my open records request promptly and then never responded further until I filed suit in Chancery Court in February of 2005. Only then did I get the information.

Allan Wade has the best of both worlds. He is a part time employee of the City Council as their part time attorney and received at that time a salary of $58,000 per year plus of course the roll-up cost that all city employees receive. Also he is on the City pension system and has health insurance with the City paying 70% of the cost. His salary then was increased from $58,000 to $80,000 per year and in addition to that, he was paid $250,913.75 for legal fees in 2004 and had received $165,446.93 in 2005 up to March of that year.

As I have found out as I expanded my open record letters, one request leads to a number of follow up requests. I next asked about other lawyer friends of the Mayor, Ricky Wilkins and Robert Spence. The partial answer I got was that Spence got legal fees of $621,824.88 from 9/16/03 to 2/28/05. Ricky Wilkins received $1.638 million from 9/16/03 to 9/30/05. Included in this was what he got on the convention center dispute. What a deal. Beginning July 1, 2004, the City and County entered into a flat monthly legal fee arrangement as to defense of the City in the Cook Convention Center litigation and all payments were made to Less, Getz & Lipman. Under this arrangement, Ricky Wilkins received $45,000 monthly from the flat amount paid to Less, Getz & Lipman for his representation of the City and County in this case. The Cook Convention Center debacle cost $2.4 million just in legal fees.

I next went to other wings of city and county government including the MLG&W, the County government, the Industrial Development Board, the Riverfront Development Corporation, the Airport Authority, the Center Center Commission and others. I found that the worst in terms of responsiveness was the MLG&W and the best were the Shelby County Government and the Center City Commission. The Riverfront Development Corporation at first refused my open records request but eventually complied without having to file a lawsuit. The Mid-South Minority Business Council refused and I did in fact file suit claiming that they were a quasi government operation that controlled which firms were designated as minority firms and which firms were not, opening up millions of dollars of business to those that were so designated.

After the recent election, I am determined to continue to turn over the rocks that hide these transactions and fight for absolute transparency in government operations that will be posted on the internet. This is the only real way to have true ethical conduct in government.

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