Jul 082008
 

County Attorney John BurnsIn an email response to an inquiry concerning the county payments to the Charlotte law-firm Wyatt & Blake, LLP., Union County Board of Commissioners Attorney John Burns, confirmed the on-going Grand Jury investigation involving Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley.

Facts as known today:

  • A Federal Grand Jury has been convened in Charlotte to investigate allegations against individuals and Union County Commissioners †
  • By her own admission, former Union County Public Works Advisory Board member, Irene Broaddus has testified before the Grand Jury. ((In February, 2008, Union County turned over to the Union County district attorney, a number of e-mails between Ms. Broaddus and Woods developer Ashley Campbell, where she offered to lobby the County Commissioners to secure a pump station for the development for a fee of $37,500.))*
  • Union County is paying the legal expenses of the attorneys hired to represent Commissioners Mills, Pressley and Baucom in the Grand Jury proceedings. &#8224 *
  • Through early June, Union County had paid the firm of Wyatt & Blake, LLP $73,120 in fees ($375 per hour or 195 hours)*
  • The focus of the investigation has not been revealed by the FBI, but media reports suggest that the Grand Jury is looking at Union County Public Works sewer allocation.

† Information provided in Mr. Burns email
* Information confirmed from other sources

Taxpayers paying for Criminal Attorneys

Unlike the attorneys hired by Baucom, Mills and Pressley to ‘defend the county’ in Mike Shalati’s suit for his severance, the FBI investigation is not a civil case, but a criminal case. The following policy, according to Union County Finance Director Kai Nelson, allows the payment of the FBI lawyers for Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley.

Union County Policy: DEFENSE OF COUNTY OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES

    I. It shall be the policy of Union County to defend its officers and employees against civil actions, claims or proceedings arising from any act done or omission made, or any act allegedly done or omission of allegedly made, in the course and scope of his/her employment or duty as an officer or employee of the County. Adoption of this Resolution shall not be deemed an assumption of liability for payment of claims or judgments in excess of funds available by appropriation by the board for payment of claims or judgments. Further, the County will not defend a claim or lawsuit or pay any claim or judgment when the officer or employee:

      A. Act or fails to act because of actual fraud, corruption or actual malice;
      B. Act or fails to act as a result of or at a time when his self-indulgence has substantially impaired his judgment (as, for example, an officer or employee whose causes damage or injury while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs while on the job);
      C. Act or fails to act, except for emergencies or the existence of extenuating circumstances directly contrary to instructions from his superior, directly contrary to the advice of the County Attorney, or directly contrary to Union County regulations and/or policy; or
      D. Act or fails to act in such a manner as to constitute a criminal act (as, for example, misappropriation of County property or funds).

The current policy as adopted in 1998, is not ambiguous — it states clearly ‘ against Civil actions’. Maybe I am missing the secret lawyer code that takes explicit policy and by some mumbo-jumbo extracts ‘except FBI investigations’.

We do know that on behalf of Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley who are under investigation, the County has spent at least $73,120. What I haven’t seen is the letter from the County Manager and/or County Attorney authorizing this expenditure.

Furthermore, how do you justify this extravagant expense without taxpayer knowing the allegations and charges. If Mr. Baucom, Mills and Pressley want to keep secrets, then let them spend their own money and if after all is said and done, the county’s policy of indemnification applies to the case, then the county can reimburse them.

To put it another way, Baucom, Mills & Pressley are again asking taxpayers to buy a ‘pig in a poke’ and after their capitulation settlement with Shalati — is anyone that gullible?

 Posted by at 5:45 pm
Jul 052008
 

T
he best news is that it’s over. The hemorrhage of taxpayers money will end, but not before Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley had squandered more than $1,000,000 of taxpayers funds trying to prove their own ‘overblown’ rhetoric and fabrications.

Thursday’s (July 3) press conference, marked another of those scripted ‘Baucom’ dramas delivered with all the believability of a Saturday Night Live political parody. Facing down the press — Allan Baucom read a 6 page statement of weak justifications and attacks on fellow commissioners and the past board. Just imagine Baucom as taller Jon Lovitz, the Master Thespian, turning to the audience at the conclusion of his monologue, flinging his arm in the air and exclaiming loudly “A C T I N G”.

Two thumbs down Mr. Baucom.

Putting on the Big Show

First, you need to realize that on Monday, June 30th with Allan Baucom in attendance, the mob of $400 dollar per hour County paid lawyers went face to face with Mike Shalati and his attorney and after 12 hours, they had hammered out an agreement. An agreement that could have occurred any time in the past 13 months without paying a Raleigh law-firm so much taxpayer money in the interim.

Over the next two days, the settlement specifics known only to the board majority, Mr. Baucom and his troupe of political thespians and legal wizards prepared for Thursday’s news conference. The resulting performance is pages of slanted, petty and completely unprofessional editorializing, laced with cherry picked testimony, including some of the lone commissioner ((Kevin Pressley, for various reasons, never made any of the multiple deposition appointments, so there was no sworn testimony from him)) who was never deposed.

Sideways logic

Evidently, to these ‘businessmen’ commissioners, spending hundreds of thousands to save tens of thousands, is justified to inform the citizens of Union County to ‘their version’ of the truth.

Says the ‘Chairman’, “we have weighed everything that’s happened to this point. We have gotten Union County will we believe it’s people deserve. Above all else, this is the truth. That has been at some cost. But now that we have what we need and can put it in the open, we can stop that cost.”

To paraphrase Mr. Baucom: We got as much of our ‘truth’ as we needed — let’s stop now, before any contradictory evidence appears, Kevin Pressley is deposed and worse, Shalati wins in court.

If you examine Mr. Baucom’s script, it is readily apparent that we’re only getting half the story and his version of the truth. And sadly, Mr. Baucom’s reputation for the truth over the last 18 months is as shaky as a 8.5 earthquake.

The fact is, we are not going to get the whole story, Kevin Pressley was never deposed, no testimony from his perspective as a member of the old board, nor as a leading figure in firing and subsequently withholding payment of Mr. Shalati’s contract. Others of the board, Allan Baucom and Parker Mills were only partially deposed according to Mr. Shalati, but interestingly enough Mr. Shalati spent three days being deposed by the county’s lawyers.

Two Wrongs – double the cost to the taxpayers

Make no mistake, the previous board majority was culpable in the costs that our citizens are paying today. Former Commissioners Stone, Sexton and Commissioner Roger Lane were wrong when they extended Mike Shalati’s severance. While it was in their purview to review Mr. Shalati’s job performance at the time, they could’ve just extended his contract another year without any changes to a severance package and let the incoming Board manage the future. Giving golden parachutes to government employees is wrong and doing so just to hamstring the next board denigrates not only the employee, but the taxpayers and voters of Union County as well.

The Real Reasons

As it stands today, in addition to the complicity of the previous Board, you are paying for the arrogance and spite of Allan Baucom, Parker Mills and Kevin Pressley, who after 30 days in office — executed the planned termination of Mike Shalati.

We will probably never know the real reasons behind the firing of Mike Shalati in January of 2007. Rumors are fed with stories of ‘star chamber’ meetings of the commissioner-elects, Chamber of Commerce executives and the large local developers, prior to the current board assuming their seats of office in December of 2006. There is a long history of feuding developer cliques that may have served as the fuel for Mr. Shalati’s departure. The pathetic rationalizations of Mr. Baucom’s script serve to bolster that hypothesis.

Regardless, let’s look at the reasons, the “truths”, Commissioners Baucom, Pressley and Mills were willing to spend upward of $1 million, maybe more to fire the County Manager.

First, they accuse Shalati of lying about Robert E. Lee holiday agenda item, the act of lying justifying termination. Quoting from Mr. Baucom’s script, “a citizen had requested the board to consider recognizing Robert E. Lee’s birthday. While Union County policy does not recognize any such birthdays, this matter would have come up on the agenda for a vote by the new Board at the same time as a federally recognized holiday for the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. noting that this would create dissension in the community, Chairman Pressley was reluctant to place on the agenda. But at the meeting, Mr. Shalati indicated Parker Mills was in favor of this proposal and would support it.” Forget the fact that Parker Mills is a Civil War war history buff and collects Confederate memorabilia, the whole premise is based on believing one witness – Kevin Pressley, who was NEVER placed under oath and deposed.

The second reason cited for Shalati’s termination was failing to inform the board about a State sewer moratorium, enacted by the state on December 19, 2006. Here again, Kevin Pressley was ‘conveniently’ never deposed, under oath as to whether he was informed by Mr. Shalati. On December 19, 2006, Commissioners Baucom, Mill and Openshaw were attending ‘Government school’ outside the county and there is reported testimony that Parker Mills was in the car with Allan Baucom, when Mr. Shalati received a call informing him of the state action. Mills asked about the call and Shalati told him. Here again, no truth has stood the test in court.

There you have it. The $Million dollar reason. So I’ll ask, since your tax dollars have been squandered and you the voter have no recourse, are you happy with the outcome?

To look at it another way, the Shalati settlement and county legal expenses is the equivalent of a 1/2 cent on the property tax for this year.

How many of the long overdue school building repairs could be done with a million dollars?

Breakdown of Mike Shalati’s Contract
Source: Charlotte Observer

Two years’ salary: $369,600
Sick leave and vacation: $226,484
401(k): $12,505
Total Contract: $608,589

 

Union County Lump Sum Settlement paid to Mr. Shalati: $650,000

Enquirer Journal Editorial: Spare us the rhetoric

 Posted by at 1:57 pm
Jun 132008
 

Fleecing the taxpayer

A

s the saying goes, when someone else is paying the tab, money is no object, and when it comes to defending ‘Republican’ Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley against the Shalati law suit, the county has become a bottomless pit of money. (The reader will recall, that Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley fired Shalati, knowing full well the nature of his severance contract, then they decided not to pay the severance in the face criticism.)

Last weeks shocking revelation of legal services budget overruns is all the evidence one needs to realize that taxpayers are of little concern when it comes to defending the actions of the commissioner tyrants Baucom, Mills and Pressley. Everyone else is to blame — except of course, Mr. Kevin Pressley.

Obviously, they were worried about a backlash during the election, so conveniently, more than $190,000 of legal bills from Poyner & Spruill, LLP, the county’s primary Shalati case lawyers accumulated for the months February through April remained hidden until the June 2nd Commissioners meeting.

During the meeting, Mr. Pressley denied that the county was responsible for holding any invoices. So we have a mystery.

With the typical sheepishness of a boy who broke the next door neighbors window, Mr. Pressley preceeded to ask Kai Nelson, the County Finance Director, if he held the invoices? Mr. Nelson’s answer was that he pays ALL legal bills within ten days of receipt. Perhaps they were stuck in transit or a hole in the space-time continuum?

So ask yourself this question, which story is more credible? Mr. Pressley’s ‘version’ or the plausibility of a top law-firm, billing at $450+ per hour (for each of the 4 lawyers assigned), is likely to just forget to bill a client for $190,000 over 3 months, for services rendered?

Like the story about the Frog and the Scorpion ((In the story, a scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.” The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?” Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”)), it’s just not in a law-firm’s nature to hold bills not when their revenue stream is based on billable hours.

Following is the county payment ledger for Poyner & Spruill since September 2007 – it proves my point:
County Payments to Poyner & Spruill

To further prove my point, notice the legal payments to other law-firms during this same time period, the only one missing is the 800 pound gorilla. To view ledger: {Click}

The question of WHO held invoices remains unanswered, the WHY is very apparent!

Questionable Management Practices

To continue, not only did the county commissioners over spend the county’s legal services budget by more than 130% ($689,000: $295,000 budgeted + additional $394,000 spent), they did so without a single budget resolution or authorization to spend funds for legal services prior to incurring the expense as NCGA Statues (§ 159‑28. Budgetary accounting for appropriations) dictates.

The County Manager and the Finance Director are responsible for keeping the budget on track and bringing to the commissioners any budget amendments necessary for expenditures not on the original budget.

From the NC State Statute:

    (a) Incurring Obligations. – No obligation may be incurred in a program, function, or activity accounted for in a fund included in the budget ordinance unless the budget ordinance includes an appropriation authorizing the obligation and an unencumbered balance remains in the appropriation sufficient to pay in the current fiscal year the sums obligated by the transaction for the current fiscal year.

Apparently, the additional $394,000 of legal fees spent in excess of the 2007-2008 budget means that our Union County Commissioners placed the county out of compliance with the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act. You have to wonder how detrimental these shoddy practices will have on the county’s bond rating (credit score) when it comes under review.

A matter of arithmetic

Former County Manager Mike Shalati’s severance contract is valued at over $600,000. Through June of 2008, the county has spent $365,000 on the legal expenses. The lead law-firm is costing the county approximately $43,000 per month (four separate law-firms were hired by the county), using the Finance Directors estimates. The trial is expected in a November time-frame and as such, I would think an additional legal expense of $225,000, to cover the intervining months would bring the total expended in the Shalati case to approximatily $590,000, then you have the trial expense, add another $200,000.

Taxpayers should note that if Mr. Shalati wins the case, the County will likely be responsible for Mr. Shalati’s, severance, his legal fees and possible punitive damages, as his suit was for more than just his severance.

Conservatively speaking, should Mr. Shalati win, Union County taxpayers will pay out 1.5 to 2 million dollars, perhaps more. Look at it another way, for each of the 3100 people to voted for Allan Baucom in 2006, it’s cost Union County $647 in legal fees per vote.

When it becomes apparent as the Shalati suit alleges, that he was fired because he wouldn’t play ball, wouldn’t give preferential sewer access to Parker Mills and Allan Baucom’s campaign contributors, then perhaps the citizens of Union County will understand the level of corruption that continues to run rampant today. From fixing ‘constituent’ traffic tickets to trading sewer access for business favors, Union County elected government is as it sounds.

Or did this all happen because Kevin Pressley was the subject of a Charlotte Observer cartoon caricature by Kevin Siers?

 Posted by at 10:00 pm
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