Maggie to choose a town attorney

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Apr 10, 2014

MAGGIE VALLEY — The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen is set to select a town attorney at its regular meeting Monday after receiving and reviewing five applications.

The town put out a request for proposals at the end of January, which is a routine measure. Chuck Dickson has served as the town’s attorney for about 30 years, but based on discussion at the board’s agenda-setting meeting on Wednesday, the board is looking to move in a new direction.

Dickson submitted a letter of interest along with The Van Winkle Law Firm in Asheville, Hunter Murphy in Waynesville, Cannon Law in Waynesville and Scott Taylor in Waynesville.

Alderman Phillip Wight said he was impressed with Murphy’s proposal and experience.

Alderman Saralyn Price mentioned that Murphy also had applied for a judgeship to replace Chief District Court Judge Richlyn Holt, who recently retired.

“I think he has a good chance of getting it so we’d be hurting ourselves if we appointed him,” she said.

Wight asked if the board members were already dead set on hiring the Van Winkle firm or if they planned to interview the candidates.

“Or are we hiring blind?” he asked.

Alderman Janet Banks said the deadline for the applications was in February and it seemed a little late in the process to be scheduling interviews.

Mayor Ron DeSimone said he was familiar with all of the applicants and didn’t feel like he needed to interview them. However, he said he was concerned with the possibility of increasing lawyer expenses.

“We are tripling the cost of our attorney, and I’m concerned about that,” he said. “That’s a big jump.”

While Dickson’s hourly rate is $150, while the hourly rate for Van Winkle would range from $275 to $350 an hour plus travel costs.

Wight said he was shooting for a price somewhere in the middle.

Between recent litigation issues and publicity on following open meeting laws, Alderman Mike Eveland said he wanted to make sure the board had a lawyer to protect the board.

“I feel like you pay for what you get,” Price said.

“I have no doubt we’ll get superior service. I just question the cost of the service,” DeSimone said.

Town Manager Nathan Clark said Van Winkle could be paid one of two ways — either an hourly fee of $300 plus $150 an hour for drive time or a lump sum based on the average hours worked by the town attorney in the past.

The hourly fee method would cost the town about $900 for a typical two-hour town meeting each month. The lump sum method, based on 55 hours of work a year plus drive time, would come out to about $16,500 a year paid out monthly.

After the meeting, Eveland said he didn't want the decision to select a new town attorney to reflect badly on Dickson's service to the town over the years.

"Chuck has given 29 years of service to the town and that's a big commitment," he said. "I think he should be applauded for that service."

The board will discuss the issue further at it 6 p.m. Monday, April 14 during its regular meeting at town hall.


Maggie Valley town attorney applicants

Clarence “Chuck” Dickson, Waynesville

Concentrates in Municipal law, real estate, wills and estates

Education: Duke University 1975, UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law 1978

Experience: Town Attorney for Maggie Valley for 29 years, Town Attorney for Clyde for 31 years, attorney for Haywood County Board of Realtors for 13 years, counsel for Haywood Vocational Opportunities for 30 years

Service: Founding member of Kids Advocacy Resource Effort (KARE), Guardian Litem Program, Folkmoot Board of Directors

Proposed fee: $150 an hour for two-year contract


The Van Winkle Law Firm, Asheville — Craig Justus

Firm consists of 46 attorneys specializing in different areas, including municipal law, real estate, litigation, corporate, intellectual property and taxation.

Education: University of North Carolina 1987, UNC School of Law 1991

Experience: More than 20 years experience in municipal law, has represented town of Biltmore Forest and Maggie Valley.

Proposed fee: $300 per hour plus drive time


Hunter Murphy, Waynesville

Licensed to practice law since 2006 and opened his own firm in Waynesville in 2012.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in economics from UNC, University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in California.

Experience: Worked with Eric Ridenour, who served as the Town Attorney for Sylva for 12 years.

Service: Board of full Spectrum Farms, adult autism charity in Cullowhee and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Proposed fee: $220 an hour and a $3,000 retainer for litigation.


Cannon Law — Michael McConnell, Waynesville

Cannon Law is a firm made up of two attorneys. McConnell has 23 years of experience practicing law.

Experience: In-house attorney for the Idaho Legislature from 1996-2000, associate counsel for the Office of the Attorney General for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians from 2001-06 and Tribe’s attorney general for the Eastern Band of Cherokee from 2006-07.

Service: Haywood Community College Board of Trustees, Haywood Habitat for Humanity, First United Methodist Church in Waynesville.

Proposed fee: $2,000 monthly retainer, $200 an hour, $250 an hour for litigation


Scott Taylor, Waynesville

Taylor has had his own practice in Waynesville since 2011

Experience: Civil litigation, disability law, business law and real estate law. Experience with municipal, state and federal law is limited to representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against government entities.

Proposed fee: Annual salary, $200 an hour for litigation

Comments (3)
Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Apr 10, 2014 14:19

So. Let me see if I understand this correctly. This meeting was not a "regularly scheduled" meeting of the elected officials? This was put out to be simply an "agenda setting" meeting. If town citizens realized the business of the people was being discussed at these meetings more of us would attend.

Also, It would seem the discussion of any agenda item would be held until the regular scheduled public meeting.  If we, the citizens of the town, are going to be given adequate voice and our elected officials are going to conduct our business we need full disclosure and adequate minutes recorded.

The selection of a town attorney should be discussed at the scheduled public meeting and not the agenda meeting. Is this a "backdoor" attempt to discuss business of the people without having full participation? What other decisions concerning the citizens of Maggie Valley are being discussed, and decided, out of view of the citizens?

It's very frustrating to attend regularly scheduled meetings (now on the board approved 2nd Monday of each month) and finding not only is the agenda set but now there is very little discussion because they already made their decisions at the "agenda setting" meetings.  This is not "open and transparent" government.

If you want to have two regularly scheduled meetings, with full disclosure and minutes, then make it so. The Haywood County Commissioners have two meetings per month and it works for them.


Posted by: Scott Lilly | Apr 10, 2014 15:19

You know, they let anyone be an Alderman and Mayor these days.  All you have to do is get all your friends to vote for you.  Once sitting in a town government seat for the first time, you look around and don't see any orientation manual nearby.  Then what?


A good government body will have legal counsel to advise them what they can and can't do vs. what they should and shouldn't do.  And those sitting in the government chairs (usually regular citizens with day jobs) should appreciate the advice counsel gives them.  I don't know any lawyers in Haywood County -- but I've had the benefit of counsel while I served on a government body in another city. 


The Board should also keep another nuance in mind: counsel does indeed serve the interests of the Board.  Sometimes, it's appropriate to go against what's best for the Board as determined by counsel.  For example, counsel might advise the Board not to admit fault of something they did.  Doing so might open the Board up to risk.  That's counsel's job to keep the Board's interest in mind.  But if there really was fault, the Board likely should admit it in spite of the advice from counsel.


Other advice to anyone sitting in "the chair": ask for the coaching.  There's no shame in that.  Roberts Rules of Order and the laws for conducting public meetings exist for good reason: to ensure debate is had in a civilized way.  It's not an easy thing to learn.  And sometimes you only start to get the hang of it when your term expires.  There will be passionate feelings and opinions.  But when you think of how any one person is only a single player in the government, you can learn to speak your opinion, hear the opinions of others, and let the chips fall as they may.  Don't get bent out of shape about anything -- just be sure you're on record correctly as you see it best.


Finally, be sure you know your Bylaws.  In fact, every member ought to have a printed copy at every meeting.  If your Bylaws can be improved, address that first.  How do you know if they can be improved?  Well, ask your counsel!  From the stuff I've heard over the last couple of years, I'm thinking the Bylaws are weak or just outright disrespected.  (Just a hunch.)


Oh, and if you look to Washington DC to see how politics and government is supposed to be run, that would be the wrong way to get a proper perspective!  Instead, look at Waynesville town government.  They have a plan to go have a beer or bite to eat: two-by-two.  Get to you know your fellow Aldermen personally so that you debate more respectfully in public meetings.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Apr 10, 2014 15:46

             I recommend Cannon Law firm. Very professional.



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