A new town attorney access policy adopted last month by the Stokesdale Town Council has one member up in arms. Stokesdale Town Councilmember Tim Jones, a financial conservative who’s often the lone no vote on that council, said this week that a new policy restricting access to the town attorney is outrageous, needless and was adopted to target him and to thwart his ability to get information.
The new policy was approved on a 3-to-1 vote on Thursday, July 11 by the town council, with Jones as the no vote. It requires all councilmembers to address any requests to use the attorney to the mayor. In the past, Jones and other members of the Stokesdale Town Council have been able to contact the town attorney and ask their legal questions – and the town would subsequently be billed for that time. However, now, those requests must go through the mayor, who can approve or deny the requests.
Other councilmembers argue that the new policy helps avoid redundancy, streamlines the process of engaging with the attorney and keeps the town’s legal costs down.
“They claim it was being done for the sake of efficiency,” Jones said, adding that this has not been a problem in the past. He said it would be one thing if the proponents could hold up a stack of legal bills and argue that money toward attorney fees is being wasted – but, he said, instead, he knows this move was done to prevent him from getting information.
Jones said he’s the only fiscal conservative on the council that currently has one vacancy and he said he knows he’s going to get outvoted on issues – and that’s fine. However, he added, the town shouldn’t be allowed to restrict his access to the tools of government needed by councilmembers to run the town.
Jones said he can’t even make a request to access the attorney since Mayor John Flynt and Councilmembers Frank Bruno and Thearon Hooks “all have my phone number blocked.”
Jones claimed in an email to the Rhino Times, “If I call them the call goes straight to voicemail. (In the past when I have left messages I have had problems with them calling me back from a speaker phone in Town hall with 2 or more Council members on the speaker phone, thus creating an illegal public meeting, so I don’t leave them messages anymore.) I have documented this circumstance in emails to the previous Town attorney Mr. John Bain.”
Jones said that, as for using email, if he emails one or more of the three, he doesn’t hear back.
“They will not respond or they will claim they never received the email,” he said. “I have had to have the town clerk print an email and hand-deliver it to Thearon Hooks in the past because of this. I had to appeal to the town attorney to get the town clerk to confirm she delivered my email.”
Jones wrote, “Given the past refusal of the other Council members to communicate with me, I am very, very skeptical about being able to send any legal questions I may have to the Town attorney via the Mayor either by phone or email and actually receive a response back unedited. I am going to guess that if I went to the Town Clerk first she would tell me I had to go through the Mayor and thus I would be trapped in a never ending cycle with them. It is just a ridiculous situation to be in as an elected Stokesdale Town Council member … I would guess that they think themselves quite funny for all the gas lighting they engage in with me.”