South Palm Beach: Council members clash over town attorney

By Dan Moffett

    Despite agreeing on terms for a new working relationship with Town Attorney Brad Biggs three months ago, South Palm Beach council members remain divided over whether he should keep his job.
    Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan sharply criticized Biggs’ performance during a stormy Aug. 23 town meeting and said the council should open his position and interview applicants.
    Jordan said that, during the town’s recent negotiations with developer Gary Cohen over plans for the old Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn site, Biggs was not a strong advocate for the town’s interests.
    “Brad didn’t support the council enough,” Jordan said, complaining that he appeared to side with the developer’s lawyers.
    “When people come up and ask me whose attorney is this guy — that’s embarrassing,” Jordan said.
    She also criticized Biggs for not helping the council maintain order and follow parliamentary procedures during meetings. Jordan also has said Biggs has been slow to respond to officials’ questions.
    Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello vehemently disagrees: “Brad has done a great job.” Flagello said the town should have no complaints about how Biggs has done his job, arguing the attorney has been consistently attentive to the council’s needs.
    “If you said you don’t like the guy, all right, that’s fair enough,” Flagello said. “But from a performance standpoint, I don’t see that his performance has been anything but great. We’re not going to be totally happy with anyone who sits in that seat.”
    Councilman Woody Gorbach said he supports advertising the position because the town might be better served by a larger firm. Biggs is a sole practitioner.
    “Nothing against our attorney, but I’d like to have a firm with six or eight practitioners,” Gorbach said. “A single practitioner can’t handle it.”
    Councilman Robert Gottlieb said the council should schedule Biggs for a performance review and then decide: “[A review] is something we haven’t done.”
    Mayor Bonnie Fischer said the continuing dispute over Biggs has taken a toll on the council.
    “I don’t want to sit here on the council when there’s  dissension about you or anybody else,” she told Biggs. “It’s uncomfortable for me as a mayor because I feel like I’m in the middle of this and I don’t like it.”
    Fischer said the Town Council would schedule a workshop meeting to discuss what services the town should expect from its attorney. She said she hoped to hold the workshop in September — at a date to be determined — and then reach a consensus among council members about Biggs’ fate.
    For his part, Biggs said he was “blindsided” when Jordan first voiced her complaints during a meeting in May. “It was a very, very unusual circumstance, and I don’t think it was appropriate,” he said.
    Biggs, who has been the town’s attorney for 10 years, said he doesn’t want discussion about his future to continue coming up and would participate in the workshop. He said he thought the complaints were resolved in June when he agreed on a new contract based on a retainer payment, rather than hourly fees. Biggs agreed then to spend more time in Town Hall to improve his accessibility.
    “I felt personally attacked the last time this occurred,” he said. “I very much feel kind of bullied at this point.”

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