By Karen Murphy
CAIRO — Questions were raised recently regarding Grady County attorney Kevin Cauley’s compensation related to the Tired Creek Lake Project, particularly his role in the issuance of a $10 million bond.
During last week’s Grady County Commission meeting, John Monds asked, in a list of prepared questions, whether the commissioners had considered a possible conflict of interest for Cauley in recommending a $10 million issue in which he received $65,000 in compensation.
Invoices for the bond, obtained by Monds, showed that Cauley was paid $35,000 as counsel for the Lake Authority on one invoice and $30,000 as counsel for the county in another in the issuance of the bonds on Feb. 12. The $65,000 in fees represents nearly one-quarter of the $274,267.25 overall cost of issuing the bonds.
When Grady County Commission Chair LaFaye Copeland was asked, after last week’s meeting, if she was aware of how much Cauley’s fee would be before the bonds were issued, she said, “I knew we would pay him something but I didn’t know exactly what the fee would be.”
“He did a lot of work on that bond. I’m not even sure how much he got paid,” she continued. “I wasn’t shocked by the amount, but I wasn’t shocked because lawyers are expensive.”
Copeland added, “I wasn’t at the meeting where they voted on that bond. I wasn’t there when they approved it and I really didn’t know how much it would be. I don’t know if anybody really knew the exact amount he was going to get paid, to be honest with you. We knew he was going to get paid something, but I just didn’t know how much.”
When Commisssioner Charles Norton, who also serves on the Lake Authority Board, was asked, “Did you know how much Cauley would be paid before the bond went through?” He replied, “I didn’t know.”
When asked if he was surprised by the total, his answer was, "No comment.”
Carlos Tobar, county administrator, was also asked about Cauley’s fees.
“I don’t know all the details about Kevin Cauley’s fees, but obviously he represented the county," he replied.
Did the board know he would be paid that much before the bond went through?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Tobar, “He doesn’t report to me, so I don’t know what he told them.”
However, Cauley said the commissioners should not have been surprised by the fee, nor was there any conflict of interest. In an email to the Times-Enterprise, Cauley said, “ In the months prior to the formal request for the issuance of bonds, the County had several meetings with bond underwriters and counsel to discuss options. These meetings were with various staff and board members, some were public and included the entire Board, Authority and Administrator. Included in these discussions were estimates of closing costs, including attorney’s fees of which you note I shared in. The final closing costs were in keeping with the estimates originally given and were a known expense by the County and Authority in issuing the debt. Specifically, my fees included my responsibilities in representation of the County as local counsel and representation of the Authority as their local counsel from November through the current obligations I have post issuance. As no adverse interest exist between the County and Authority, no conflict exists. Certainly there is not a conflict created merely by the fact I am compensated for my services.”
“The Board, and its Administrator, were certainly aware prior to pursuing a bond that I was to be compensated for my services and the fees paid are customary with the work performed and similar fees paid by the County in previous bond issues,” Cauley said. “This fee structure is customary and widely practiced throughout the state in other local public offerings. Further, the work required of me and the other counsel involved on this particular issue was a heavier load than normal as many issues existed with the County’s reporting, finances, and credit rating that required attention that is not typical of local bond counsel obligations.”
In addition to the $65,000 total in bond issuance fees, Cauley has also received about $80,000 in other legal fees charged to Grady County for his work with Tired Creek Lake over the last three years. Of these fees, he said, “we have dealt with years of regulatory issues, administrative hearings, and legal challenges to our permits involving courts as high as the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and State Supreme Court. I have been intimately involved with every one of these legal actions and each has resolved itself in a fashion that has not impeded our construction.”
He continued, “Additionally, when our County Administrator Rusty Moye died during dam construction, the Board asked I serve as the local point of contact for the construction, planning and design of this project. Each of those requests were made in an open meeting by a unanimous Board without my requesting the same. These services provided by me were all billed at my hourly rate and each of the invoices have been approved by the full Board or then acting County Administrator as was appropriate. Although I have not had the chance to verify the total you reference, it seems reflective of the substantial investment of time I have in this project over the past few years.”
“I have been happy to serve in this role and am proud to be part of the team that has finally constructed this great resource for our Community,” Cauley said.
Grady County also paid Gray Pannell & Woodward LLP a total of $75,000 for the issuance of the bonds.
Additionally, Wm. Thomas Craig has received $1,074,366.07 since 2006 for work as the county’s liason with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Grady County Clerk Carrie Kines.