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Local News

January 23, 2013

Split City Council hires airport lease attorneys

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council voted Tuesday to hire a law firm to represent the city in negotiations with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems concerning the defense contractor’s lease of property at Majors Field Municipal Airport.

The Council was split, however, over whether to bring in a new legal team to handle the negotiations, or to stick with the attorneys who had been dealing with the company for the past two years during the protracted litigation between the two sides, a firm which had already drawn up a proposed lease agreement for consideration.

And a former mayor asked the Council what the hurry was in making a decision.

The Council was scheduled to vote to grant a professional services agreement with Taylor Olson Adkins Sralla Elam for legal matters with respect to the airport lease.

The airport covers approximately 1,500 acres. L-3 leases much of the airport property from the City of Greenville, with the original lease agreement reached in 1977. The lease agreement is set to expire in 2017.

City Attorney Daniel Ray said he had reviewed the qualifications of more than 10 firms, looking for those who had extensive legal experience in municipal law, ad valorem taxes and airport lease agreements. He presented the four finalists to the Council’s L-3 committee, which chose to proceed with Taylor Olson, who works with leases at DFW Airport and Alliance Airport.

“They have done multiple leases at both those airports,” Ray said.

The law firm proposed handling the negotiations at a rate of $200 per hour for attorney work, $100 per hour in paralegal work and $20 per hour for work performed by administrative assistants, which Ray said was “far, far less” than any of the other firms he looked at.

But Council member Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy wanted to know why the Jackson Walker law firm, who had represented the city concerning two lawsuits filed by L-3 concerning Majors Field and who as of last summer had prepared a draft lease agreement proposal, was not being considered.

“If we went with another attorney, would they reinvent the wheel,” she asked.

“That’s one of the documents that we’d be working from,” Ray said, although he explained preparing the actual lease agreement would be much more complicated process. Ray said Jackson Walker was offering to do the job at $590 per hour.

“That in the long term is going to save the city a lot of money,” Ray said.

But Council member Dan Perkins also wondered if Jackson Walker should have been considered, noting how the legal expert they had brought on to handle the lease agreement was the same expert L-3 was looking to recruit for their side of the negotiations.

Mayor Steve Reid said the cost was not the only factor involved, noting Taylor Olson was a recognized leader in the field.

“We’re not going to Walmart to get an attorney,” Reid said.

Still, Perkins noted the lease is one which will impact generations of local residents and recalled how the city had already paid Jackson Walker $33,500 just to prepare the draft proposed agreement.

“I don’t understand why we are not looking at Jackson Walker when you look at their quality reputation and what they have already done for us,” Perkins said.

But Ray pointed out that no negotiations have taken place so far, which will be bulk of Taylor Olson’s responsibilities.

“The majority of that will be doing the negotiations with the attorneys at L-3,” Ray said.

Former Mayor Jim Morris addressed the Council, asking what had happened to attorney Bob Scott, who was retained by the Council as a special counsel to represent the City of Greenville on all matters relating to L-3 Communications Integrated Systems.

“I think he’s quite capable of handling the situation locally,” Morris said, also inquiring as to why the decision had to be made Tuesday.

“Is there a reason for addressing this lease issue now,” Morris asked. “The current lease has four more years to go.”

Ray said that Scott would be involved with the process, “he just won’t be billing for it.”

Perkins agreed that the city needed someone with extensive experience in dealing with airport leases to handle the negotiations, in making a motion to table consideration of the vote until after the Council meets with representatives from Jackson Walker.

But Council member Dr. Joseph Perks said time was of the essence in hiring legal representation.

“L-3 has to make their plans for the future, which is why they want to get this settled as soon as possible,” Perks said.

The motion to table the vote failed on a 4-2 vote, with Perkins and Del Bosque-Hobdy voting in favor.

A separate motion to approve the contract with Taylor Olson passed on a 4-2 vote, with Perkins and Del Bosque-Hobdy voting against.

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