Maggie pays top dollar for town’s defense

Apr 17, 2014

Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen voted Monday night to hire a new town attorney and will be paying top dollar for his services.

Craig Justus with the Van Winkle Law firm in Asheville will now serve as the new town attorney beginning in May. He will replace Chuck Dickson in Waynesville who has served in the position for 29 years.

Both men have decades of experience in municipal law, but Justus will charge double what Dickson was charging ($300 an hour) plus drive time from his office in Asheville.

It is understandable that a new board makeup would want to move in a new direction as far as town staff. The town has experienced several threats of litigation in recent years and recently filed a lawsuit against a former business owner to recoup about $11,000 owed to the town.

The board’s ethics and actions have been questioned as well when the board failed to make an official motion on litigation after coming out of a closed session. We are glad to see the town taking steps to stay out of legal trouble, but surely there are local, highly-qualified candidates in Haywood County.

Choosing to oust the town attorney, who carries 30 years worth of history and background on the town’s issues, to hire someone out-of-town, might be an over correction. They say you get what you pay for, but that may not be true in this case — paying a lawyer double doesn’t necessarily mean the town will be better represented.

The board needs to have a strong town attorney — someone who will actively keep the board on track during a meeting. Being the town attorney is not an easy job — it’s a balance of making sure the board stays within the law while also trying not to dictate the meetings or the board’s direction.

Municipalities rely on good counsel to keep them in line, but it is also important for our elected officials to at least know the basics about Open Meeting and Open Record Laws in order to protect themselves and to be accountable to their constituents.

Time will tell if the extra money the town will be doling out is worth it. In the meantime, we wish the best for the new town attorney and hope his service will help lead Maggie Valley in a positive direction.