Andy Gay, a fixture at Zebulon Town Board meetings for most of the last two decades, is giving up his post as town attorney.
Gay struggled to find the right word for his decision last night at a town board work session. He finally said he was retiring. Gay is the prototypical small-town lawyer. He defends people from speeding tickets, he represents folks in district court and criminal court. He speaks with that genteel Southern accent reminiscent of the late Terry Sanford.
Jim Cauley is Wendell's town attorney. He's worked with Gay in a limited capacity on municipal matters. But Cauley's had a number of dealings with Gay on other issues, including some instances in which the two were on opposite sides.
"I've always known him to be a very effective attorney. He pays attention to details and he's zealous in defense of his clients," Cauley said. "He approaches things very reasonably in my opinion."
Gay's private practice has, at times, made him choose between clients. Long ago, he told the town he could not represent the police department because of the conflict of interest it would represent if he were to defend someone who charged with, say, driving while impaired by a Zebulon police officer.
At last night's work session, the issue arose rather routinely when the board began discussing Gay's contract. Apparently, Gay has not had a contract with the town. He has worked under a gentleman's agreement generally $75 per hour. He reached that level of pay in the 1990s when then-Mayor Thurston Debnam bumped his pay from $50 per hour.
According to current Mayor Bob Matheny, the issue of a contract with Gay arose after the IRS suggested the town needed a contract with its attorney. Gay debates that point, arguing that requirement only applies to attorneys who are full time staff members.
Nevertheless, Gay said the issue pressed the case for him that it might be time to step aside.
"A couple months ago this board hired a law firm to provide legal advice to the police department, which I think was a very good idea. Last month, my law partner decided to go the House of Representatives. This might be a time when the town wants to consider looking for a new attorney," Gay said.
Gay cautioned the board to find an attorney with experience in municipal matters. Cauley says a good municipal attorney is still something of a generalist in the law profession these days. "There is a wide variety of issues that you have to deal with, from police to water and sewer to planning to open meetings and public records laws," Cauley said.
Gay said he would continue to work for the town — without a contract —
until the commissioners hire a new attorney. Town staff will begin
putting together a request for proposals to seek a new attorney. The
town could have a new attorney in place by summer.