Support grows for in-house city attorney in Tupelo

Tupelo StockBy Robbie Ward
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Another Tupelo City Council member seemed willing Tuesday to support Mayor Jason Shelton’s request for an in-house city attorney as part of the $32 million upcoming 2014 budget proposal.

Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said during the council’s budget meeting that he’s open to changing the city’s long-standing policy of outsourcing its legal work to a law firm and rather, employing a single attorney with the city to do the work, a move Shelton said could save taxpayers $100,000.

“I’m not opposed to the in-house attorney,” Whittington said. “We’ll never know if it saves us money until we try it.”

Two other council members – Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Jim Newell of Ward 3 – have already voiced their support in the proposed budget.

If the City Council goes along with the in-house lawyer, which will earn $90,000 annually, Shelton also proposes a $60,000 contract with a law firm to assist with “overflow” work a single attorney cannot handle. Mitchell, McNutt and Sams law firm has handled the city’s legal work for 36 of the last 40 years and would receive the first option to accept the limited contract with the city, Shelton said.

The proposed budget will not increase taxes, dip into city reserves or rely on the sale of bonds to balance expenses with revenues.

Council members also had mixed views on whether to add code enforcement positions in the Development Services department. Councilmen Jim Newell of Ward 3 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 said funding the positions using increased fees would help crack down on residential and commercial properties violating city ordinances. However, Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 said the council should wait until after the council decides long-term goals for the city to fund new positions.

The City Council will meet on Sept. 7 to discuss goals for the rest of the four-year term and must approve the following week.

Another budget meeting is scheduled for Thursday.