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Morrow city attorney hired despite council tally

Hecht had highest cost, lowest score

Morrow Downtown Development Authority attorney Greg Hecht addresses the Morrow City Council Tuesday night. The council later appointed Hecht to be its new city attorney.

Morrow Downtown Development Authority attorney Greg Hecht addresses the Morrow City Council Tuesday night. The council later appointed Hecht to be its new city attorney.

— Greg Hecht was appointed Morrow’s new city attorney this week despite finishing last on an interview score sheet.

He could also ending up costing far more than many of the other candidates seeking to replace former City Attorney Laurel Henderson, who resigned in protest over actions taken by the City Council — including possible state Sunshine Law violations. The Clayton News Daily has learned Hecht told city officials in his application for the job that his services could cost as much as $245 per hour.

Henderson charged the city $150 per hour. Most of the other candidates for the city attorney job were expected to cost between $155 and $170 per hour of work performed for the city.

Those cost figures are what prompted Morrow Mayor Pro Tempore Larry Ferguson to push for Hecht’s appointment to the position be contingent upon negotiating a lower hourly rate.

“We have to do something to get that brought down to a more reasonable rate,” said Ferguson after the council’s meeting Tuesday.

Further digging into the hiring of Hecht, who is also the attorney for the Morrow Downtown Development Authority, raises further questions about why the council hired him over other candidates seeking the job.

A score sheet, obtained by the Clayton News Daily through an open records request, indicates council members did not even think Hecht was the best candidate interviewed by council members. Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke said the candidates were reviewed and assigned scores by himself, Ferguson and council members Jeanell Bridges and Bob Huie.

Tally sheets outlining the total scores for each candidate shows Jonesboro attorney Steve Fincher had the highest score with a total of 75 out of a possible 80 points. Fincher is the city attorney for College Park, Jonesboro and Lake City.

Forest Park attorneys Robert Mack and Joe Harris had the second-highest score with 65 points. They are the city attorneys for Forest Park.

Hecht and McDonough city attorneys Leigh Hancher and Jessica Whatley were tied for last place with scores of 58 points each.

Burke said while Hecht’s hourly rate is $245, it would cost an extra $160 per hour for an associate attorney or paralegal.

Fincher’s hourly rate is $170, and an associate attorney or paralegal would cost $135 per hour, the mayor said. He added Mack and Harris’ hourly rate is $155 and associate attorney or paralegal’s hourly rate is $140. The firm Hancher and Whatley work for, the Whalen Law Group, LLC, charges hourly rates between $150 and $350, said Burke.

Hecht’s ties to the Morrow Downtown Development Authority has raised eyebrows.

As the authority’s legal counsel, Hecht advised the DDA during the planning and creation of the city’s failed Olde Towne Morrow development.

The authority, which officially oversees Olde Towne, spent more than $13 million in taxpayer dollars to build the development only to see it close after a year because of a variety of problems. It generated less than $10,000 during its operating life.

Through his DDA position, he also works for Morrow Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin, who is involved in a prolonged feud with Burke. The council has an ongoing investigation into a grievance McLaughlin filed against Burke after he was publicly criticized by the mayor in October.

“I found it very interesting, knowing who got the highest score and how much each attorney was going to cost us, that they suddenly went with Greg Hecht because he was the most expensive attorney by far, and because he has ties to Michael McLaughlin,” said Burke.

The score sheet shows two members of the council gave Fincher 20 points, the highest number possible, while one council member gave him a score of 18 and another gave him a 17.

Meanwhile, two council members gave Hecht a score of 20, while another member gave him a 14 and the fourth reviewer gave him a 4.

Burke said he gave Fincher one of the 20s and gave Hecht the 4.

State Bar of Georgia records show Hecht is a graduate of the University of Georgia’s law school and was admitted to the state bar on June 6, 1988. He is a member of the bar’s local government law, real property law, labor and employment law, general practice and trial law, creditors’ rights, corporate counsel and business sections.

Bridges and Councilman Virlyn Slaton said they supported Hecht’s appointment earlier this week because of his work for the DDA and because he does not represent any other cities.

“I would like us to have somebody who has the time for us,” Bridges said.

Fincher is also a UGA law school graduate and joined the bar April 4, 1980. The state bar has him listed as being a member of its local government law, school and college law, health law, eminent domain, dispute resolution and aviation sections.

Ferguson initially advocated Fincher’s hiring, citing the attorney’s lengthy experience representing cities in Clayton County. “With a specialty in municipal government, they develop an expertise that you would want,” he said.

Robert Mack is a Georgia State University Law School graduate and joined the bar on July 6, 1993. His partner, Joe Harris, is an Emory University Law School graduate who joined the bar on Nov. 9, 1971. Neither is listed as being a member of individual sections of the bar.

Leigh Hancher is a Georgia State Law School graduate who joined the bar Nov. 2, 2002. Her colleague, Jessica Whatley, is a Cumberland Law School graduate who joined the bar on Nov. 9, 2009. They are members of the bar’s local government law and general practice and trial law sections.

There is no record showing any of the candidates have ever been punished by the bar, according to the association’s website.