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Spring Lake to consider contract for new town attorney

The board is expected to hire Michael Porter, a lawyer in Fayetteville.


SPRING LAKE — The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen on Monday is expected to hire Michael Porter as the new town attorney.

Porter has a law practice in Fayetteville that specializes in business and commercial law, personal injury and wrongful death, government and municipal law and other areas, according to his website.

Alderman Marvin Lackman said the town only interviewed Porter.

“Interim Town Manager Joe Durham vetted attorneys throughout North Carolina and narrowed the search closer to Spring Lake,’’ Lackman said. “Mr. Michael Porter was the candidate that was provided to the Board of Aldermen.” 

In April, most of the board members spoke about the need to find a lawyer with municipal law experience.

“He has done a bit of everything in law including business litigation, municipal law and personal injury,” Alderman Raul Palacios said.

Porter’s website says his government clients have included the Hoke County Department of Social Services, the Public Works Commission, the city of Fayetteville and its housing authority and Cape Fear Valley Hospital. He also has worked for the Sampson County town of Garland.

“We interviewed one candidate,’’ Palacios said. “I'm comfortable with the salary we are paying out for this position. It's not the best deal we could have gotten, but it's not a bad price to pay.” 

According to the proposed contract, the town would pay $3,333.33 per month in a flat fee structure, which was criticized by former aldermen who preferred a detailed invoice.

Former Alderman James O’Garra said in early 2021 that billing by the town attorney had become a concern for him. He said he raised the issue of detailed invoices after the town paid a $25,000 lump sum to The Charleston Group without what he said was proper documentation.

Jonathan Charleston submitted his resignation on March 23 shortly after the State Auditor’s office released an investigative report that outlined six findings related to the town, including that the former finance director used more than $400,000 in town money for personal use and that town employees had spent over $100,000 in questionable credit card purchases. He provided a 30-day notice as required in his agreement, but stayed until the town was able to find a new attorney.

Palacios said in April that he would be in favor of detailed invoices after the Local Government Commission criticized Charleston for not invoicing the town on a regular basis. Palacios said he favored the flat fees in the proposed contract for Porter because it listed what Porter would need to accomplish on a monthly basis.

“I'm in favor of this contract because it details duties and responsibilities,’’ Palacios said. “It also affords us the option to reconsider the contract at six months and it solidifies his requirements to the town when it comes to billing.”

Lackman said he favors a flat fee so the board can ask questions, especially while the aldermen are going through the current challenges.

“As for the flat fee, I am in favor of the flat fee due to the events that has transpired here in Spring Lake,’’ he said. “I have contacted our attorney seeking answers to my questions as I am sure other aldermen have done.” 

The $3,333.33 monthly fee equates to just under $40,000, which is an increase from the previous year of around $35,000 paid to Charleston.

In Porter’s previous town attorney position, he billed by the hour providing invoices, according to their town clerk.

Pamela Cashwell, the town clerk and finance officer for Garland, said Porter was their town attorney from 2014 to 2018. She said he billed the town $75 an hour.

“He was here for a few years and was always well-prepared,’’ Cashwell said. “We didn’t have a complaint about him.”

Cashwell said the town has around 650 residents.

In other business Monday, the board is expected to consider changes to its meeting structure.

The town currently has two regular meetings a month that combine presentations and actionable items for voting. The proposed change would separate the first meeting as a regular meeting with new business, appointments and related actionable items. The second meeting would become a work session with only presentations and no formal actions.

The board also has a closed session for personnel on the agenda.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Grady Howard conference room of Town Hall.

Jami McLaughlin covers Spring Lake for CityView TODAY. She can be reached at jmclaughlin@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Spring Lake, Board of Aldermen, town attorney