Charleston City Council's scrutiny of Mayor John Tecklenburg's expenses from 2016 took a fresh turn Monday into a request for detailed information on contract work done by an attorney who volunteered with Tecklenburg's campaign in 2015.
The city's legal department is expected to review a contract with Roy Willey, who helped Tecklenburg's 2015 campaign and who has volunteered for other candidates challenging sitting City Council members.
The city paid Willey about $84,000 for work between January 2016 and June 2017, including roughly $9,000 for attending council meetings and about $1,300 for watching other council meetings online. City Auditor Robert Majernik said, "Most charges are for advisory services for the Mayor and his staff rather than legal services."
City Councilman Keith Waring said the lack of detail on Willey's billed hours was a "cloud" on Majernik's report, and the expenses were tucked into the city's legal department budget when part of the scope of his work included advising the mayor.
Reached later Monday, Willey defended his work with the city and the mayor's initiatives against over-development.
The Charleston mayor’s race officially kicks off at noon Monday, when filing for the November election closes.
"I volunteer on a host of campaigns at every level, I volunteer statewide, county and all the way to city council," he said. "I've never been paid to work on the mayor's campaign, never been paid to work on city campaign. It is all volunteer effort which I think we should appreciate our citizens doing."
Willey said he was hired as special counsel, not as a special assistant to the mayor. He said his work on the city's short-term rental ordinance began after he got a ticket for violating that ordinance, appealed it and won.
"All the legal work that was billed was billed through the legal department and obviously approved by the legal department," he said.
Willey said after Tecklenburg was elected but before he was sworn in, Willey was asked to review expenditures for bringing the city's legal department in-house. Shortly after Tecklenburg entered City Hall, Willey said he worked on a variety of projects under the mayor's quality of life agenda.
charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said he will submit the full and completed audit report of his spending to the state Ethics Commission for review.
"Lawyers do a lot more than legal research," Willey said. "A lot of what we're retained for is not legal research, it's advisory and completing and seeing projects through in terms of legal issues."
Willey described City Council's audit as "simply a distraction" from issues that residents are concerned about, such as flooding and infrastructure and transportation. "The only thing you can say about it is it's political," he said.
Columbia-based government, ethics and compliance attorney Michael Burchstead said again Monday that he did not find any evidence that Tecklenburg had done anything to financially benefit from his leadership of the city.
City Council is expected to discuss the issue further at its Tuesday meeting.