Espy returns again as board attorney for supervisors

By NIKKI ROWELL,

The right-hand chair in the Madison County board room, reserved for the board attorney, will once again be occupied by Mike Espy.

Espy is no stranger to the issues facing Madison County, as this will be his second term in this role. He previously served as the county’s board attorney from 2012 to 2016.

During that time, he resolved several high-profile cases and helped save the county millions of dollars. For example, he worked closely with litigation related to the Lost Rabbit Public Improvement District (PID), which subsequently saved the county approximately $13 million.

The Lost Rabbit PID was formed in 2007 to finance infrastructure in and near the town center of Lost Rabbit. However, when residents filed a suit in 2012 saying the PID was not formed according to state statute, the county stepped in to help settle the matter.

Plaintiffs claimed the PID was illegally established and asked the Madison County Circuit Court to declare it void to prevent it from collecting property assessments, according to a previous Sun report.

After more than a year of litigation and a $25,000 study of the long-term viability of Lost Rabbit, a settlement was reached between the county, Allstate Insurance Company, Lost Rabbit developers and PID lot owners.

An urban renewal district (URD) was created to reduce bond debt, dropping from an $18.6 million PID bond to a $5 million URD bond. The Lost Rabbit town center and 40 lots were later purchased from Allstate by Southern Lifestyle Development, who then undertook payment of principal and interest on the $5.2 million bond, according to a previous Sun report.

He was later replaced with Katie Bryant-Snell in 2016.

Espy was appointed to the position for 2020 with a 3-2 vote.

The close vote comes as no surprise, as supervisors were vocal about their concerns, or lack thereof, both during the meeting and the days prior.

District Two Supervisor Trey Baxter nominated now former board attorney Snell to “continue her contract with the county” when the issue came up at the regular meeting of the board of supervisors last Monday.

District Five Supervisor Paul Griffin made a substitute motion to appoint Mike Espy, with newly elected Supervisor for District Four Karl Banks seconding the motion.

District Three Supervisor Gerald Steen also voted yes. Baxter and District One Supervisor Sheila Jones voted no.

The board then voted to give Snell a 45-day transition period for hourly wages of $200 an hour.

Steen said, “Before we go further, I know that there’s a lot of concerns and a lot of talk over the last two or three days about our board attorney. I would like to take a minute and make a couple of points about the hiring of the new board attorney.”

He added that the decision was not made based on political or personal philosophy, but that he voted based Espy’s experience alone.

“My policy decision was based on his experience as our former board attorney. He will provide the board with solid council and legal advice because of his experience, and that is what counts,” Steen added.

Concerns have been raised by Baxter about the county’s future with federal funding and how much time Espy would have to devote to the position.

“He wasn’t my first choice,” Baxter said. “I’m a conservative, and there are other conservative attorneys I thought would do a better job.”

Baxter also noted the work the county put in to receive federal funding for Reunion Parkway and the role Espy’s hiring could play in future dealings.

“I also don’t know how much time he could devote to the county while running for Senate,” Baxter said.

Espy announced last year that he is running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Before the vote naming Espy board attorney, Griffin made a motion for Steen to be board president for 2020.

Steen was named president, and Banks was named vice president.

Griffin also made the motion for the county to rotate the presidency each year beginning at the first meeting in January, meaning the current president would resign and the board would then elect a new president each year.

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1. He has been married for 21 years to his high school sweetheart. 2. He and his wife have four children.