On Thursday, June 13, following his regular scheduled bi-monthly public meeting, Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield agreed to answer some questions regarding the county's plan to refinance revenue bonds from 2015.
Commissioner, what is driving the decision not to bring in a second layer of oversight from another attorney with extensive bond refinancing expertise?
We have done that. We are working with a bond attorney out of Atlanta named Jim Woodward.
Does the bond attorney you are using have any affiliation with Stifel?
No, he doesn’t. Stifel asked me what bond attorney do I want to use. I had some interactions and work that had never went totally through on another project, and I had developed a working relation with Jim Woodward, and I trusted him. And, he came very highly recommended as well.
Who highly recommended him?
Duane Horton is the president of a private golf course in Walker County. He is also the president of the Scenic Land Co.
So, you worked with Woodward in a previous business situation?
Yes. Well, actually, it was a county government situation in 2017. But the project never matured. And so nothing was ever done.
The way these bond attorneys work, as I mentioned earlier, they only get paid if the project gets done and the issuances are done. And so that one didn’t get completed and so the county didn’t owe him any money, and I didn’t owe him any money.
But, I developed a relationship with him. And, so I trust him. And so we started down this path (the Walker bond refinance) a couple of weeks ago and he was my “go to” guy because I knew he knew the industry, and he knew his craft. And I knew I could trust him.
I understand that you are also using an in-house attorney on this refinance proposal?
Yes, Matt Williamson, who is what we refer to as a “captive attorney.” He only works for Walker County. His office is at the commissioner’s office. And he handles the first level of any need we have as a county — or that any of our elected officials have.
It is pretty typical protocol that each county will have an attorney. We just had so much going on that in 2017 we spent over $160,000 in outside legal council by using third-party local attorneys. And it's slow (using outside attorneys), because they have other business and other clients.
And so being able to bring in a captive attorney that just focused on us we could get so much more done, so much more faster, at about half the price. And so it was an economic decision (to hire a captive attorney) and for greater productivity."
Stifel is the banking investment company slated to promote and sell the 2019 series of bonds that will replace the 2015 bonds (if the deal is approved after final interest rates and term length is known -- and agreed upon for the $14.7 million being sought).