February 2, 2013 8:49:43 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
If you have a law degree and you enjoy high drama, backstabbing and bickering, then there may be a job available for you.
The Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau is currently accepting applications to replace Chris Lattimer, who abruptly resigned as the board's attorney in December. Prior to his resignation, Latimer accused some board members of using his services for political leverage.
During Monday's CVB meeting, executive director Nancy Carpenter suggested the board hire Columbus attorney Chris Hemphill to replace Latimer. The board, however, voted to advertise for the position and appointed board members Mark Castleberry, Bernard Buckhalter and Harvey Myrick as an ad hoc committee to make a recommendation on the new hire.
"We have started the advertising process and will be accepting resumes," Carpenter said.
According to Carpenter, the CVB has professional services budget for 2013 of $49,000, of which approximately $24,000 remains. Carpenter said the money is used for technical support, an annual audit and for attorney fees. Lattimer was charging the board $200 per hour Carpenter said.
"We have enough money to hire an attorney to be with us during the board meetings," she said. "If we are only using his services for board meetings, we should only be spending $200 a month. The board members will need to be aware of the attorney's fees during board meetings. We do not need to have two- and three-hour board meetings."
Former CVB treasurer and current board member Whirllie Byrd opposed Carpenter's recommendation to hire Hemphill and she said she hopes the process works this time.
"I like having a committee if the process works the way it is designed to," Byrd said. " We went through the process with Chris Latimer but the process didn't work. I have more confidence the process will work this time."
In October, a disagreement between Byrd and Nancy Carpenter over the use of Latimer's services -- the attorney bills the CVB at an hourly rate -- played out in the CVB's monthly meeting. During a discussion of the financial statement for the month of September, board treasurer Bart Wise disclosed that more than $2,000 was owed to Latimer.
Latimer was hired in February 2012.
"Chris Latimer was the first attorney hired by this board," Carpenter said. "We have used other attorneys to help us get into our building, but Chris was the first attorney to serve at the discretion of the board."
Because the Columbus-Lowndes CVB serves both the city and the county, it operates differently than those who serve only a city. Those CVBs often use the city attorney.
'We are considered a city department," said Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Neal McCoy. "We use the services of Mitchell McNutt like any other city department. We only seek legal counsel for as needed and we do not have an attorney present at every board meeting."
Berry Hinds who regularly attends the CVB board meetings said he, too, feels it is time for the board to have a full-time attorney.
"There are so many things that come up that need a legal opinion," Hinds said. "I have seen some improvements with the sniping between board members and I do not know if an attorney will help with that. But there are some board members that are making some improvements."