By Dan Moffett
After hearing complaints from council members about poor communication, South Palm Beach Town Attorney Brad Biggs is proposing a new arrangement that will change how he does his job.
Biggs told the council to consider renewing his contract and paying him on a retainer basis, rather than with his current arrangement that is based on hourly rates. He said the change will enable him to spend more time at Town Hall and allow him more one-on-one meetings with council members.
“With the retainer idea, you are kind of in-house but you’re not in-house,” Biggs said during the June 28 meeting. “I think it’s more predictable for the budget. A big benefit is better communication. I know there have been some issues.”
Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan told Biggs that she wanted to be better informed about the issues he raises at meetings.
“My concern about communication is that if you’re going to bring something up at a meeting, we need to know about it,” Jordan said. “You owe your allegiance to the town. You are our attorney.”
Councilman Woody Gorbach criticized Biggs for not attending town events — such as the car show at Plaza del Mar in February and the Memorial Day ceremony at Town Hall.
“You could have put yourself out to attend them,” Gorbach told Biggs, “but you didn’t come.”
Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello said he’s never had a problem communicating with Biggs, saying the attorney always returned phone calls promptly.
“You’re doing a great job for us,” Flagello told him.
Under the retainer proposal, the town would pay Biggs $4,500 a month. He currently receives $170 per hour and $195 per hour for litigation.
Town Manager Bob Vitas likes the idea. “Having an in-house attorney one day a week is advantageous,” he said. “The face time is important.”
Mayor Bonnie Fischer said the council will consider Biggs’ contract during the upcoming budget workshops.
The relationship between Biggs and several council members appeared to fray in recent months as the town bumped heads with developer Gary Cohen over his construction plans for the old Palm Beach Oceanfront Inn site.
Cohen wants the town to hold a referendum during the November election that would allow changes to the building code that would enable him to build his condominiums 5 feet above the existing height limits.
Council members Jordan and Gorbach complained that Biggs hadn’t given them enough information about the legal consequences of Cohen’s request. At the May town meeting, Jordan brought up the idea of putting out requests for proposals from legal firms to take over Biggs’ job with the town.
Fischer was the deciding vote to turn down Jordan’s motion to advertise the position, but the mayor said she wanted to discuss the matter further at the June meeting.
Gorbach said Biggs has been difficult for him to reach, and the councilman has suggested that the town might be better off hiring a larger legal firm that has lawyers with special areas of practice, rather than staying with Biggs, who is a single practitioner.
Flagello has been Biggs’ most outspoken ally on the counsel, saying he “unequivocally” supports him and opposing Jordan’s motion.
“If you have a problem with someone,” Flagello said, “you sit down and talk with them before you start talking about taking their job away. I don’t have a problem with Brad.”
Biggs has been practicing law in Florida since 1998 and has been South Palm Beach’s attorney for six years.
He also is the lead legal counsel for Royal Palm Beach and the Village of Golf, has served as assistant counsel for six other municipalities and also has worked for the Palm Beach County League of Cities.
Biggs worked as an associate attorney with Corbett, White and Davis for 15 years.
In other business:
The council set workshop meetings for July 14 and July 19, both beginning at 6 p.m., to discuss budget plans for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.
Property values are up 7.9 percent in South Palm Beach, increasing tax revenues and giving the council more flexibility to consider capital projects for the town.
By Dan Moffett