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Brooklet City Council holds City Attorney interviews at called meeting

Benjamin Perkins, partner with Oliver Maner LLP, and Andrew Lavoie and Marc Bruce, partners of Bruce Mathews and Lavoie Attorneys at Law, were interviewed by the Brooklet City Council for the role of City Attorney that will become vacant at the end of this month.

Brooklet City Council held a meeting to interview candidates for for the position of City Attorney to replace the current City Attorney Hugh Hunter, who is retiring.

Mayor Nicky Gwinnett called the June 6, 2024 Brooklet City Council meeting to order at 4pm. He proposed that public comment be added as an item to the agenda. He asked for a motion, and the agenda was amended to reflect the addition of public comment. 

Oliver Maner LLP

The first interviewee for the position of city attorney was Benjamin Perkins, a partner in the litigation section of Oliver Maner LLP. He has worked as city attorney for Springfield, Georgia since 2013, Guyton since 2020, and most recently has taken on a lead role in a partnership of attorneys for the city of Rincon, Georgia.

Benjamin Perkins speaking to Brooklet City Council

Perkins noted the establishment of the Downtown Development Authority in Springfield as a success in remediating similar issues that face Brooklet. He also has experience representing cities and law enforcement in liability cases throughout the state. Perkins adds that he has been engaged by counties and cities across Southeast Georgia for special projects and has represented the city of Savannah, providing representation for various matters.

Perkins says upon review of Brooklet’s new City Manager structured charter, he is confident that his experience with similar forms of government in neighboring cities will enable him to fulfill the necessary duties to the city of Brooklet.

Mayor Nicky Gwinnett began the discussion by asking if Perkins had worked personally with any member of the city council, to which Perkins replied that he had not as far as he could remember.

Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Kelly asked how responsive the firm would be to the city's calls for assistance, more or less how long will it take to get a call back when legal consultation is needed. She also questioned whether he would be representing individual members of the council or the council as a whole, if matters were to arise of improper conduct. 

Perkins replied that he thinks it is unprofessional to let a phone call go un-returned and that a response would be timely. He also responded that he represents the city and council as a whole, and that he has dealt with matters of improper conduct before. He says such issues arise typically due to new council members misunderstanding. He states that he has a strong policy against drama.

Council member James Harrison asked if Perkins believes that he and his firm could handle the workload with the responsibilities of representing other cities.

Perkins replied that no other entity he is working for meets on Thursday so there would be no schedule conflict for this time slot. 

Council member Bradley Anderson says that the highest priorities in Brooklet that need attention from an attorney and law firm include issues relating to real estate, zoning, and creating ordinances that match zoning.

Perkins comments that his first case with Oliver Maner was a zoning issue. He says he has plenty of ideas about how to handle zoning and growth with high design standards in the city, with great success in previous city’s zoning matters incurring no zoning lawsuits thus far. 

Perkins Fee Structure

Perkins says he personally charges all municipal clients the same $275 an hour fee, and his team of associates charges $200. Perkins comments that he takes efficiency seriously as these charges are paid by the public.

Bruce Mathews & Lavoie Attorneys at Law

The next interview took place after a brief intermission, with founding partners Andrew Lavoie and Marc Bruce speaking on behalf of Bruce Mathews & Lavoie Attorneys at Law. Currently the firm represents Bulloch, Candler, Screven, and Bryan County School districts.

Attorney Andrew Lavoie

Council member Anderson asked how the firm could contribute to the large concerns of zoning, residential and commercial growth in Brooklet.

Lavoie cited the firm's comfort in working in the realms of representing both citizens and government entities in times of development and growth as experience that would aid the city during this period. Lavoie says the firm often handles navigating the complexities of annexations and could provide mediation for the “push and pull” of sensible development.

Mayor Gwinnett asked if the firm has worked for any members of the council, for which Bruce replied that he had worked previously in personal estate business with Council member Anderson.

Council member James Harrison commented about the positive standings history of the firm in Bulloch county.

Mayor Pro-Tem Kelly asked about the speed at which the city could expect inquiries to be attended to. Lavoie said that they are as responsive as possible to governing entities and the council can expect for the attorneys to answer the phone or return a call that day.

She also asked Lavoie to clarify whether he represents the council or individual members, to which he replied that he intends to provide legal advice to all members by raising the appropriate forum with members of the council. He says in working with school boards, the firm works through and addresses matters with all members.

Council member Harrison asked how they would handle the workload and Lavoie replied that they would be hiring not just himself, but three lawyers with a wide range of expertise.

Fee Structure of Bruce Mathews & Lavoie 

General Services of Partners: $225 per hour

General Services of Associates: $175 per hour

Council Meetings: $300 per meeting

Public Comment

Concerns form the public included potential conflict of interest issues if the city were to hire Bruce Mathews and Lavoie relating to the personal matters of business between Council member Anderson, as well as due to the representation of the firm of both the school district and city pertaining to the sewer system agreements.

No decision

City Council did not vote at this meeting for a replacement. They will take both firms into consideration and make a decision at a future meeting.