Fees in grievance case top 15K

May. 21, 2014 @ 06:15 PM

The city has released final figures on the cost of an investigation earlier this year into a personnel matter involving top officials.
Raleigh law firm PoynerSpruill sent the city a bill on Tuesday for $12,626.32 for its work handling a complaint brought by Human Relations Director Al Heggins against City Manager Strib Boynton.
This fee is in addition to $2,714 already charged to the city by another law firm for mediation work related to the case.
It’s unclear what the city got for the $15,340.32 in attorneys’ fees.
That’s because state law allows public bodies to keep most information about their employees private. City leaders have taken this tack in the case of Heggins’ grievance, which apparently stemmed from an alleged verbal confrontation between she and Boynton in February.
City officials and council members have refused to talk about the case or release records of the investigation, citing personnel laws, and Boynton and Heggins have declined comment on the matter.
Council held several closed sessions to discuss personnel issues related to the grievance, which was settled for undisclosed terms in April.
Council took no public action on the matter. By law, any council vote in connection with the case would had to have been taken publicly, in open session.
The employment status of Boynton and Heggins remained unchanged during the investigation and since its settlement, according to the city.
In addition to the grievance with the city, Heggins filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Both complaints were resolved in the settlement.
City officials decided to enlist outside attorneys to handle the grievance to avoid potential conflicts that could come into play if city staffers were investigating their boss.
The case dragged on for weeks after the city initially enlisted attorneys from Greensboro law firm Smith Moore Leatherwood to handle the investigation. The firm ended its involvement in the matter out of concerns about a potential conflict of interest, given that some of its attorneys have represented the city in past legal matters.
Smith Moore will not bill the city for its work on the investigation, but it did collect more than $20,000 from the city earlier this year in an unrelated matter.
The firm was hired to try to collect a $32,000 federal judgment against Councilman Foster Douglas, who subsequently declared bankruptcy. A judge ruled in March that Douglas does not have to pay the city any of the debt because payments to other creditors take precedence.
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