Friday, February 8, 2013

Escalating School Board Legal Fees Raise Questions

Friday, February 8, 2013
Augusta, GA
By Thomas Easton

Yes, the good people at CityStink.Net and Augusta Watchdogs have been somewhat dormant recently but we felt with the New Year after a nice holiday break we would continue our investigations into what is ‘right versus wrong’ in Augusta and its surrounding areas and ask all those questions some say local media won't or can’t ask.
After reading the recent article in the Augusta Chronicle article from January 19th of this year, “City Continues To Use CostlyOutside Counsel Despite Staff Attorneys” article about all the money being paid by  Augusta Richmond County for its legal services.  It started our collective investigative juices flowing.  We definitely could argue about the amounts paid out by the Augusta Richmond County for some of these services seem to be rather high especially when taking into account the actual service rendered, but this article is not about that.  

It is about good management of a vendor.  It is the requirement of any good client to manage its vendors for a profitable relationship by both parties.  In this case, the client: The Richmond County Board of Education (RCBoE) does not ‘manage’ its client-vendor relationship with Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP.  The information we received was from records requests as well as the external study Performance Review of the Richmond County School System, March 12th 2008.   
Our various records request dealt specifically to the fees paid to Augusta based Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP.  You ask why we just chose Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP? Well, they are the only legal firm providing services to the RCBoE and now the Columbia County Board of Education (CCBoE).  The amounts paid out for legal services by the RCBoE are high, and it is believed this is because RCBoE is not managing  its business relationship with Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP as efficiently as it could and their is a lack of oversight and protocol.

Fletcher, Harley & Fletcher LLP has been providing legal services to the Richmond County Board of Education for over forty years (this is proudly displayed on the firm’s web site) and started representing CCBoE as counsel in 2007.  They are an established Augusta based legal firm specializing in Banking and Investment, Bankruptcy, Corporate Business, Education, and Environmental & Natural Resources.

Since this article is about the management of the client-vendor relationship, it does in the end come back to the effective use of the taxpayer’s dollars.  The taxpayer has demonstrated a ‘blind’ trust in that the elected and appointed officials of the RCBoE to judiciously carry out policy and supposedly ensure our children are getting every advantage for every dollar spent  However, the question is exactly how good is this stewardship  when it comes to effectively managing the public’s trust, the interest of the children as well as tax dollars?  

The information regarding the spending of tax dollars for legal services surprised us.  We were amazed over paying so much money for legal services when actual student populations are decreasing.
Here are the RCBoE legal costs from 2000 through 2011:

The legal cost for this twelve year period totals out to be $5,842,460.02 for a twelve year annual average of $486,871.67.  Unfortunately we were unable at this time to receive the actual invoices for billed services from RCBoE to show the actual services rendered, actual hours, how they were billed or guidelines for use.
Since this is will be an ongoing investigation of the RCBoE very similar to our investigative work into TEE Center and TEE Center Parking Deck fiascos perpetrated by the bad management practices of City County Manager, be prepared for more revelations in the weeks to come.

In closing, based on our work so far on the RCBoE, we ask this one question that individual citizens of Augusta Richmond County may want to ask the RCBoE as well as individual elected officials, Does RCBoE have a procurement process for legal services or any services and if so is it documented where all individuals are trained on it?***

Stay Tuned..More to Come

No comments: