By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Few municipal attorneys can do the work of five seasoned lawyers with years of experience in government law, but Ben Logan is trying.
Logan, however, seems uniquely suited for municipal law.
He pledged as a University of Mississippi undergraduate to dedicate his life to public service leadership when selected as a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholar, which paid for much of his law school education.
Hired as Tupelo city attorney Oct. 1, the 1981 Tupelo High School valedictorian brought 24 years of public service experience related to politics, policy and law. He served four years on the old Tupelo Board of Aldermen, then eight years as municipal attorney for the town of Sherman, where in 2000 he was elected mayor, a position he still holds.
Logan, 50, a Democrat, traces his politicking days back to Jimmy Carter’s defeat of Gerald Ford in 1976.
“I’ve always been interested in politics,” he said. “I was 12 or 13 years old handing out push cards.”
Logan narrowly lost his bid for Tupelo mayor in 1993 to Republican Jack Marshall. Two decades later, Logan now works for one of the young volunteers in his mayoral campaign, Jason Shelton.
Creating an in-house attorney position ranks among the most significant changes Shelton has made in six and a half months as mayor.
Shelton, an attorney, convinced a skeptical City Council in September to switch from contracting city legal services from an outside law firm to employing a single attorney. Until last fall, the Tupelo firm Mitchell, McNutt & Sams had contracted with the city for legal services for 36 out of 40 years.
Shelton has rarely mentioned the symbolism of breaking from the city’s arrangement with an established law firm, but it fits into his image as an outsider to Tupelo’s status quo.
MM&S continues to do limited legal work with the city to handle any overflow Logan can’t complete in a timely manner or when he has a conflict of interest.
Shelton said during budget talks he anticipated an in-house city attorney would save considerable tax dollars and offer added convenience of having legal advice available inside City Hall. City leaders will evaluate Tupelo’s legal costs every three months at least for the first fiscal year as part of the agreement to try the in-house attorney arrangement.
A Daily Journal analysis of the city’s first quarter legal expenses shows taxpayers paid $70,522 in Fiscal Year 2014, which began Oct. 1, 2013.
That compares to $54,810 during the first quarter of the previous fiscal year, amounting to $15,712 more paid this year.
However, Logan explains that comparison can be misleading. The city only paid $35,341 in legal work actually occurred during this fiscal year related to services expected from in-house counsel. Other costs, including legal insurance claims, involve separate outside contracts.
The city paid an average of $11,780 a month during the three-month span for legal services covered by the in-house city attorney, a 50.3 percent savings compared to the $23,681 average monthly cost MM&S charged for similar work during a 10-year period ending in the 2013 fiscal year.
Logan said he felt confident using an in-house attorney will save $10,000 more compared to MM&S’ monthly costs in the most recent 10-year period.
Shelton said Logan’s work shows a prudent return on investment of tax dollars.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves as far as in-house counsel,” he said. “It’s very convenient to walk into Ben’s office and not be billed for it.”
As for Logan working for his former campaign volunteer, he said he has plenty of faith in what Shelton can accomplish.
“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have accepted the job knowing the critical importance of this time for the city,” Logan said. “It’s my privilege to be a part of it.”