GULFPORT — The city is getting a full-time attorney.
The City Council voted 3-2 to replace the city's part-time attorney, Timothy Driscoll, with a full-time attorney.
The decision to eliminate Driscoll's position, voted on at a special meeting last week, came after years of discussion by the council, which never could muster a majority to make the change.
"I am the one who proposed that we look at a full-time attorney three years ago," said Mayor Michael Yakes, who voted in favor the move.
"The Florida League of Cities said small communities usually don't have a full-time attorney, but we are a full-service water community," Yakes said.
Council members Sam Henderson and Michele King also voted in favor of changing the attorney's status.
Council members Bob Worthington and Judy Ryerson cast the dissenting votes.
"There's not enough work for a full-time attorney," Ryerson said.
Many saw the vote as a move to get rid of Driscoll, who has come under fire for using too much of the city's money on legal fees — most recently in the ongoing Pasadena Properties lawsuit.
"This is about Tim's performance. Nobody wants to say it, but that's what it is," King said during discussion before the vote.
"If any other employee was that cavalier with the city's money, he or she would be fired," King said.
A memorandum from Interim City Manager Jim O'Reilly to the mayor and City Council, dated June 23, said the city has spent $301,483.64 fighting the lawsuit since 2005.
However, Driscoll, reached for comment after the meeting, said he withdrew from that case in 2005 after being accused by residents of not filing proper documents.
He said the bulk of the lawsuit's expenses has been paid to attorneys the city hired to replace him, and he is just the scapegoat as the council looks for someone to blame.
"No question if I had stayed on the case, it would have cost the city way less than one-third of what they have spent," Driscoll said.
Henderson voted to make the change but denied it was because of Driscoll's work.
"This is not about Tim. This is about the economic benefit to the city.
"A full-time attorney does not have incentive to litigate and won't take on work for profit," Henderson said.
Driscoll was paid an annual retainer of $54,000 for nonlitigation work. For litigation work, he charged the city $125 an hour.
Driscoll said the retainer bought the city access to him whenever he was needed. He said he attended City Council meetings and any other board meetings he was asked to attend.
Driscoll, reached days after the meeting, said he does not think the council was trying to get rid of him.
"They are looking at the position. It's not about me," he said.
"The notion that I — or any attorney — would sue anyone because they are being paid by the hour is hogwash.
"It's an indictment of the entire legal system," Driscoll said.
But don't count Driscoll out of the mix just yet.
The city changed the attorney's status, but that doesn't prohibit Driscoll from applying for the new job.
"I haven't decided whether I'm going to yet.
"I have a great affinity for Gulfport. If I didn't, I wouldn't have been here for 20 years," Driscoll said.