The district pays $75,409.10 each month to Marietta-based Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun and Rodgers LLC to represent Cobb County schools on all matters, except litigation, specialized discrimination matters and bonds.
The firm changed its name from Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers LLC to its current name earlier this year, and has been the legal representation for the district since 1989, when Cobb County schools had about 60,000 students, an enrollment that has risen to 106,262 students.
It appears they are here to stay.
When Kathleen Angelucci, who represents north Cobb on the board, introduced the discussion at Wednesday’s work session, her colleagues on the board appeared disgruntled by the discussion.
“I wanted to discuss giving a contract with a law firm to show the public how we are spending their money,” she said.
The board does not have a long-term contract with Doyle’s firm, said Chairman Randy Scamihorn.
Each month, the agreement rolls over, allowing the board to continue to work with Doyle’s firm, without any formal discussion or agreement, Scamihorn said.
The board has never placed its legal services out for bid, according to the district.
Board attorney Clem Doyle sat through the discussion Wednesday and directed the board members’ legal concerns as they were asked.
Board members Scott Sweeney and Angelucci said they were in favor of looking into the district’s relationship with its legal services when they ran for office in 2010.
Sweeney was quoted in the MDJ in June 2010, during his run for a seat on the school board, as saying, “All contract evaluations, including legal services, should be done in the public view. An honest evaluation of the service will be conducted provided there are enough votes on the board to support this initiative.”
At a board meeting on Nov. 9, 2011, Sweeney said the board, which was then under the direction of former chairwoman Alison Bartlett, had a lengthy discussion and reviewed its relationship with Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun and Rogers.
The board compared its legal fees with other counties, including Atlanta, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, and, “we actually did see comparable expenses compared to neighboring districts. Cobb’s was among the lowest legal fees,” Sweeney said.
In 2010, DeKalb, which had about 7,000 more students than Cobb County, was paying $6 million annually for legal fees, nearly three times Cobb’s $1.8 million, according to previous MDJ reports.
The Cobb district paid $1.9 million for its legal representation in 2012.
The firm has 13 lawyers focused on representing Cobb County Schools, as well as Marietta City Schools and Clayton County Schools, Doyle said.
The school board’s policy requires that the board solicit bids for any services over $10,000, but excludes legal services, according to district staff.
At Wednesday’s work session, Sweeney compared the relationship between the firm and the school district to a family’s relationship with their pediatrician.
Other board members shared his opinion, taking turns speaking in opposition to Angelucci’s concerns.
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa didn’t think the current relationship between the firm and the district needed to be looked at, unless there was some sort of legislation passed that required the school to contract out its legal services, he said.
Board member David Banks said, “If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it.”
Angelucci responded, “So how do we show the public what we get for their money?”
Doyle responded, “You all have broad leeway in how you handle this,” and leaned back from the table.
Brad Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, said he would send board members a report of the district’s recent legal fees, but that they were budgeted in the general fund annually.
Johnson said this year’s budget is expected to have a deficit of nearly $80 million.
The district has paid Doyle’s firm nearly $5 million for its legal services in the last three years, according to the district.
“We are a big customer, so we deserve a bargain price,” said Scamihorn, who said he has researched other attorney’s fees, and is happy with his relationship with Doyle, as well as the amount of money the district pays Doyle’s firm.
The board eventually concluded that it was content with its current services, and board member Tim Stultz suggested that the group take a “vote of affirmation” to continue with its current law firm at its Oct. 24 meeting.
With board member David Morgan out of the room, the board voted 5-1, with Banks opposed to the suggestion.
“Everybody is satisfied with the services we are receiving,” Sweeney said.