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Carolina Beach Council Goes Into Closed Session To Discuss Attorney Contract; Selects New Attorney

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CAROLINA BEACH - Near the end of the Carolina Beach Town Council's May 8th, meeting the Council voted to go into closed session to discuss an "employment contract".
Mayor Ray Rothrock stated, "Motion to go into closed session and I'll read the North Carolina General Statutes 143.318.11 brackets a, brackets 5, to establish or instruct the staff or agent concerning the negotiations of the amount of compensation and other terms for an employment contract." The Council voted unanimously.
Later they came out of closed session. Rothrock explained, "In closed session council reviewed the applicants we received for Town Attorney and were discussed at length."
Council member Sarah Friede said, "I'll make a motion to direct the Town Manager and the Mayor to engage in negotiations with the candidate of choice as discussed in closed session according to the terms that were discussed in closed session and report back to Council."
The Council voted unanimously.
There are exceptions to the open meetings laws that permit Town Council's to enter into closed session to discuss litigation, real estate, personnel matters and other issues.
Information was provided to the Council earlier this year during discussions on whether or not to record audio of closed session meetings. In that body of information it was stated in  information from the North Carolina School of Government regarding what can and cannot be discussed in such closed-door meetings, "May the public body give instructions in closed session about negotiating an employment contract?"
The answer from the School of Government was, "Yes. That is expressly permitted" by state law.
The next question in the publication was, "Does an "employment contract" include a contract with the public body's retained attorney?"
The answer from the School of Government was, "No. It only includes contracts with employees, and a retained attorney is not an employee of the unit, but, rather, and independent contract."
On another page in the document given to the Council in January of this year it poses the question, "Can a public body discuss independent contractors, such as its attorney, planning consultants, or engineering firms, in closed session?"
The School of Government provided the answer stating, "No. Before the 1994 amendments" to state general statutes, "there was an exception in the open meetings law for discussions of the performance of independent contractors, but it was deleted by the amendments enacted that year. Because independent contractors are neither officers nor employees of the local government, their reputation or performance may not be discussed under the personnel exception. Therefore, unless the discussion involves a claim or litigation or is within the attorney-client privilege, a public body may not hold a closed session to discuss independent contractors or their employment or discharge."
On Friday May 11, the Council held a meeting at Town Hall to continue planning for the upcoming 2012-2013 fiscal budget which starts July 1.
Near the end of that meeting they went into closed session to discuss personnel matters and, "Procurement of an Attorney."
Upon emerging from the closed session, Mayor Ray Rothrock explained, "We discussed procurement of the attorney for the Town."
Council member Sarah Friede said, "I make a motion that the Town enter into the contract with Lawrence Craige of Craige and Fox as proposed. As discussed." That's the Wilmington based law firm of Craige & Fox, PLLC.
The Council voted unanimously to approve of the motion.
According to the firms website, Craige received his Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary and Master of Arts in 1993 from the University of Alabama. Later he was awarded his Juris Doctorate in 1997 from the University of North Carolina School of Law.
According to their website, "He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Guardianship Association. Lawrence is also the President of the Historic Wilmington Foundation and is a past President of Wilmington Downtown, Inc.Lawrence’s primary areas of practice include:  Estate Planning and Administration Law, Fiduciary Litigation, Guardianship and Elder Law."
The Council terminated their contract with former Town Attorney Steve Coggins in January of this year over concerns with rising legal fees.
Mayor Ray Rothrock had campaigned last year calling into question the large budget expenditures on legal fees and pledging to resolve the situation.
Councilman Bob Lewis initially raised concerns last year  about spending $248,849.62 in 2009/2010 as opposed to $23,266.67 for  2007/2008 on legal expenses.
Last fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the Town had spent around $168,068 on legal fees when only $100,000 was included in the budget.