Port St. Joe city commissioners decided last week on an attorney as they move into 2017 and did so after very little debate.

Port St. Joe city commissioners decided last week on an attorney as they move into 2017 and did so after very little debate.

Commissioners voted 4-1 during a special meeting to hire local attorney Clint McCahill to take over as attorney of record beginning Jan. 1.

The city’s attorney of five decades, Rish, Gibson and Scholz, announced in October it wished to sever its relationship with the city as of Dec. 31.

McCahill’s was one of four proposals submitted after the city advertised a request for credentials and payment schedule.

Two came from attorneys out of Bay County, another from the Tallahassee firm that serves as consultant on redistricting and county-wide voting for the Board of County Commissioners.

And two of those proposals, Commissioner Rex Buzzett noted, were simply two costly for the city to absorb.

Commissioners had pondered whether local preference could, or should, enter discussions before a final decision was made, but in the end local didn’t matter, some commissioners said.

Commissioners adopted a flat $3,000 a month, minus travel and other expenses, for the contract with McCahill.

“I thought he was the most-experienced and most-accessible guy for the job,” said Commissioner William Thursbay.

Cahill has been an attorney 20 years, served as a magistrate for the city the past 10, and best understood city operations, Commissioner David Ashbrook agreed.

“By the resume alone, I didn’t need to look at local preference,” he added.

The flat monthly rate remained above the annual line-item for attorney’s fees in the city budget, but city manager Jim Anderson said he felt staff could move some dollars earmarked for professional services to make the contract work.

Buzzett said while he hated to rush into a decision, adding that all the resumes submitted were “fantastic,” he could support moving ahead with hiring McCahill.

“I think we should stick with Mr. McCahill right here in Port St. Joe,” Buzzett said. “At this stage of the game, I would support Clint McCahill.”

Commissioner Brett Lowry dissented on the motion.

MacCahill will hit the ground running.

The city faces a short window for a response to a lawsuit brought against commissioners for the decision to issue a business license to a funeral home in a residential neighborhood.

The city will also face a lawsuit shortly after the first of the year pertaining to a fatal police station shooting of two years ago.

In addition, a lawsuit is possible from the owner of a modular home who could never come to agreement with city officials over the placing of his home on a street in Ward Ridge.

BP fine dollars

Doug Sale, a Panama City attorney who has been part of the team representing the city in various claims against BP stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, asked for approval to move ahead on a new claim.

Sale said the claim could ultimately be denied, but given the process for this new round of claims, which the BOCC is also pursuing, the city could qualify.

The dollars, over $1 billion in total, had been set aside by BP and contractor Halliburton and by a federal judge long ago to address punitive damage claims.

The model used for the punitive damages is an accepted mapping system to determine impacts and penalties and that current map included Port St. Joe, though Sale noted all indications were the county saw little to no oil on local beaches in the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill.

Sale said it was possible the administrators of the fund to respond to the city’s claim by asking for proof of the physical presence of oil, Sale added, but “there is no reason not to file (the claim).”

Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward; Sale and his team collect a flat 20 percent of any settlement under its agreement with the city.

Jones Homestead sewer

Commissioners also approved a work plan for spending a $250,000 legislative appropriation that arrived with a deadline on spending it.

The money will be used to bring sewer to Jones Homestead, roughly 141 homes and more than 80 undeveloped properties.

Because the money, which must be spent in three years starting this past summer, is not sufficient to complete the entire project, the city will undertake installation of laterals first.

The remaining funds will be used for installation of grinder pumps for individual residences or properties on a first-come, first-served basis.

PSJRA board

Given a meeting held just prior to the special meeting, Buzzett, as he has previously, suggested that given the current course and leadership of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency, commissioners should consider returning to an all-volunteer board.

“I have 100 percent faith in what (executive director Bill Kennedy) is planning to do and what he has already done,” Buzzett said.

He received an almost immediate second from Ashbrook, who said the talents that could be brought to the board were beyond what commissioners could offer.

“Other folks could offer a lot more than I can offer that board,” Ashbrook said.

But Thursbay was resistant, saying it was only because commissioners replaced the board more than a year ago that the ship had been righted.

He also reiterated his long-held conviction that un-elected individuals should not have the say on how public dollars are spent.

According to the city’s charter and by-laws establishing the PSJRA, any decision on spending money or taking action must be approved by the City Commission, regardless of the make-up of the PSJRA board.

The board took no formal action.