A recent article entitled “Beeville ISD v. Bee County: Attorney bills begin to arrive” discussed the current disagreement between the county and local school districts over an increase in tax collection fees charged them by the county, as well as the cost in legal fees to the county stemming from those disagreements.
The article says $16,000 in additional revenue anticipated by the county has been and will continue to be reduced by outside legal expenses after BISD sued the county over the increase in fees. Then the story reports the commissioners court voted “reluctantly” to pay a $2,695 bill from my firm for assisting County Attorney Mike Knight right after BISD filed suit.
Later, after quoting Commissioner Salazar’s concern that the bill be paid “so [the county] wouldn’t face a lawsuit from McKinney,” the article refers to a county policy prohibiting county department heads from incurring legal expenses without prior permission of the commissioners court. The article notes the policy was adopted last year after the court was “surprised to find” my firm billed the county after I spoke to the sheriff’s office about a legal matter.
Needless to say, I feel compelled to respond and provide a few missing facts.
First, I have submitted only one bill – at $175 per hour – to the county for work on the BISD suit. The court has since voted to retain an Austin law firm to take over defense of this case at $240 per hour. The commissioners may be reluctant to pay my bill, but I’m sure they understand neither I nor the new firm they hired is responsible for the suit having been filed. I’m also sure the court never expected either firm to work for free.
Meanwhile, with regard to remarks made by my friend, Commissioner Salazar, I know both he and County Judge David Silva will tell anyone who asks that neither I nor anyone else at my firm has ever so much as hinted at the idea of suing Bee County over any bill.
With regard to my “surprise” bill last year (of $376) leading to the policy prohibiting legal expenses without permission of the court, the article fails to explain how it was “surprising” for me to submit a bill to the county for work I performed in good faith. At that time, even the commissioner with the loudest objection to the bill – again, my friend, Commissioner Salazar – admitted “he had no doubt McKinney’s service was needed.”
Perhaps the most important fact omitted by last week’s article is something several county department heads would willingly concede (and have in the past) – that being that I have, on numerous occasions, answered questions and provided legal advice and help to the county without charging a dime.
Phillip A. McKinney
Editor’s note: Although county commissioners have lauded Mr. McKinney in the past for saving taxpayers money, they did not do so during the commissioners court meeting to which he refers. And while McKinney may not have been surprised by submitting a legal bill to the county last year, commissioners said they were unaware the sheriff’s department had sought his counsel.