Board to discuss Barter legal expenses

By Tom Joyce -
Yokeley -

Mount Airy officials are slated to discuss this week the cost of legal services aimed at gaining state approval for a Barter Theatre expansion locally, which are projected to more than double a city allocation for that purpose.

That matter is among agenda items for a meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Municipal Building.

The legal discussion is coming on the heels of action by the board on April 19 to appropriate $5,000 to pay attorney Bob Jessup of the Sanford Holshouser firm in Raleigh. Jessup’s services were sought to represent Mount Airy in a return visit to the state Local Government Commission (LGC), whose analysts on March 22 had rejected a plan for the Barter project as too risky financially for the municipality.

Jessup’s input was desired since he has experience dealing with the state oversight agency that must approve such major projects by localities in North Carolina.

Documents recently provided by Jessup outline his scope of proposed services to the city government, for which he estimates the total fees to be “approximately $11,000,” rather than the $5,000 allocated by the commissioners in a 3-2 vote. In late August, the attorney sent a bill to the city for $5,000, specifying that it covers work done on the project to date.

In recent weeks, a new funding concept for the Barter has been devised which shifts most of the burden to developers of a hotel planned in conjunction with the Barter.

The upcoming services pledged by Jessup include reviewing formal and informal development proposals regarding the theater project and conferring with city representatives on the proposals, according to documents from the attorney.

Those proposals’ relationship to legal requirements and Local Government Commission recommendations also will be explored, and members of the Raleigh firm will work with the city on crafting a new presentation to the commission’s staff.

The attorney services will include attending any meetings between Mount Airy and LGC representatives in Raleigh.

“We expect to work toward a meeting with LGC staff members to take place at least by the end of calendar year 2018,” Jessup states in his documents to the city.

Thursday’s planned discussion on the Sanford Holshouser legal proposal will be led by Commissioner Steve Yokeley.

After the initial LGC rejection of the Barter plan, city officials appointed Yokeley and Mayor David Rowe to prepare for a return meeting with the state commission.

Yokeley has contended that city representatives were not adequately prepared for the initial meeting which led to the March disapproval, and a follow-up session with updated figures would be more successful.

Yokeley: Costs ‘reasonable’

Commissioner Yokeley explained Tuesday that Jessup’s services to date have been used more than what was envisioned originally, including a number of conference calls and other input.

“I think his bill is very reasonable so far and I think the rest is reasonable — we just need to get some details on it,” Yokeley said of the charges specified.

This includes work performed already and that yet to come, he added.

Yokeley said he had talked with City Manager Barbara Jones about this and she contacted Jessup requesting itemized information on what the attorney has done and proposes to do.

He doesn’t know if the board will vote during Thursday night’s meeting to allocate additional funding to cover the full scope of legal services involved.

“I don’t know whether it will be or not,” he said of action approving more funds. “It will have to come at that meeting or a meeting pretty soon.”

Additional business

Among other items on Thursday night’s agenda are:

• A discussion of overgrown lots in the city at the request of Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, who expressed concern about that issue during the board’s last meeting on Aug. 16.

• An update on the situation at Mayberry Mall, also at Brinkley’s request. The local shopping center has been in turmoil due to structural deficiencies and an acquisition dispute that have delayed repairs and recently caused the JCPenney outlet there to close.

• A discussion of an offer by local resident Steve Barnard to buy city-owned land in a residential area in the vicinity of Westwood Park.

Projected cost exceeds allocated amount

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.