What Would Mayor Murray Do (WWMMD)?
I don't know what Mayor Edna Jackson was thinking at the outset of her term when she instigated her new Legal Department and tapped a senior partner of Savannah's biggest law firm to head it up. Granted, Brooks Stillwell, Esq. has the right credentials and as the former Mayor Pro Tem of Savannah City Council knows all the ins and outs politically and legally speaking. But on day one of his new post, City Attorney Stillwell was barred from taking an active role in the biggest law suit on Savannah's books-- the case against Batson-Cook over the Ellis Square Parking Deck-- because of the conflict of interest stemming from his law firm's prior involvement. Thus, on the very first day of his problematic appointment, our City Attorney became nothing more than a traffic manager in doling out cases to outside legal counsel due to conflicts of interest. Worse, his prior partnership has paved the way for Hunter-Maclean clients to game Savannah's legal system in winning approval for huge projects by circumventing the boards empowered to enforce the rules and regs that protect our vaunted historic district.
More troubling to our sitting council is that their Legal Department couldn't come up with the figures on exactly how much of the taxpayers' money has been paid to outside firms to handle the City's business that he couldn't handle personally. And when it was discovered that some lawyers have been overpaid or paid to do little or nothing, why, Alderman Bordeaux, also a lawyer, blew his judicial circuitry. What we have, then, is a Legal Department that is both hamstrung by and beholden to conflicting interests, with zero accountability and even less transparency. And your question to me is: What Would Mayor Murray Do?
Savannah needs and deserves a full-time City Attorney with clean hands and no prior ties to a local law firm. Savannah needs a lawyer who can go into court and represent her in matters pertaining to Contracts, Employment, Zoning, and bond issuance. There are occasions when it becomes necessary to farm out specialty cases that require a master and that is to be expected. But at no time should the City Attorney be barred from representing the City due to conflict of interest; there shouldn't be any conflicts. Ever.
It was a sad day in the history of the City of Savannah when our City Attorney ushered a partner from his old firm before council and won approval for the Kessler hotel on River Street, having circumvented the Historic Review Board. No one can remember a time when such tactics had been employed before. It set a horrific precedent. It also illustrates the scope and size of the manner in which the construction industry has corrupted this city. The dots between the media, business and political elite are easily connected. So powerful are these connections that none of the conspirators bother to hide it anymore: their names appear as chairmen of fundraising events for incumbents...or have you simply not bothered to read the names on the invitation to the $500-a-plate fundraiser for Edna Jackson that was held at the Westin two weeks ago?
As Savannah's next mayor I would lead a nationwide search for a legal eagle to head up Savannah's Legal Department with no prior ties to Savannah's political, legal or power bases. The City Attorney should be insulated from all conflicts of interest. Savannah should be the City Attorney's only client and sole concern. No case shall be farmed out without prior knowledge and consent of the City Manager and on the advice of council, including details regarding compensation.
Ethics. Accountability. Transparency: EAT it and like it.