Council members weigh paying for Lee investigation

Joseph Lee
Joseph Lee

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Memphis taxpayers paid more than $100,000 to investigate corruption charges against former MLGW president Joseph Lee.  Now, long after the case was dismissed, council members are debating if the cost was worth it.

"If you look at it at face value, of course, $117,000 for 30 days is a lot of money," Councilman Harold Collins said in an interview Monday.

Collins said doesn't understand why other council members are so hesitant to pay Lee's legal bills after the case was dismissed.

"If you're comparing apples to apples, then I believe that Mr. Lee deserves to have his fees paid," he said.

But Councilman Jim Strickland believes the paying for the previous Council's investigation of Lee, versus paying Lee's legal bill, is comparing apples to oranges.

"It was done before I got on the Council, and I'm not sure whether that was reasonable or not, but that is a completely separate matter," Strickland said.

Strickland added that he believes Lee's legal bill is personal.

"The city has never paid for the criminal defense of any employee, ever, including police officers who've been criminally charged while on the job who were found not guilty," he said.

Both councilmen agree they won't second-guess the previous Council's decision to authorize the $117,000 investigation.

"I never discussed that the fee was an outrageous amount," Strickland said. "Mr. Spence is a very good lawyer, who got a great result for Mr. Lee, but it was a personal obligation of Mr. Lee's."

"They should be indemnified if they work in these positions and are making decision in these positions.  It's not about how much money it is," Collins countered.

City Council members are still waiting for a Chancery Court judge to rule whether or not the city can move forward with the payment of Lee's legal bills.  It could take a year or two if the judge's ruling is appealed.

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