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Date of Issue: April 12, 2007

Legal brouhaha erupts in Bradenton Beach

Bradenton Beach city officials briefly considered revamping their legal structure last week.

The move was spurred by Commissioner Bill Shearon, who questioned an increase in hourly rates offered by Ricinda Perry, a city attorney with the Lewis Longman and Walker firm in Bradenton. Perry's most recent billing showed a $30 increase in hourly rates, from $130 to $160.

"I'm concerned because she said we had been receiving a discount [on her regular rates] and now we've got a bill with an increase of $30 per hour," Shearon said, "and the contract says that she can re-negotiate rates in January. It's April."

Mayor John Chappie said that the whole rate structure issue came up during budget talks last summer. "There was an agreement that the rates would go up to $160 an hour during the budget, and it was accepted during the budget process," he said.

"I would like to look at all of this or go out for a request for qualifications, for all our attorneys," Shearon countered. His motion, to offer a request-for-qualification for legal services for the city, died for lack of a second.

City attorney Ralf Brookes, the city's attorney of record, said that Perry's original contract called for her to receive $130 per hour through December 2005, with the added clause that it could be modified on January of each subsequent year. He added that there did not appear to be a change in the contract to reflect any change in hourly rate.

"We have a contract and we need to amend it to get it right," Shearon said.

"I think we need to officially do it, not just see it on bills," said Commissioner Janie Robertson, "but I don't want to just not pay anything."

She added that "this is not clean and neat enough for me."

City clerk Nora Idso said she would request the Lewis Longman Walker firm to re-submit the bill at the $130-per-hour rate.

Chappie said that based on a consensus of the commission - with Shearon dissenting - the city would pay the Perry bill at $130 per hour, and then bring forward documents at the next city commission meeting to "memorialize" the decision of the commission to increase the fees during budget talks last summer.

The bill, at the $160-per-hour rate, was for $3,830 and included some charges for paralegal services at a $110-per-hour rate.