Q&A with Jim Elliott

April 16, 2014 

Jim Elliott

City of Residence: Warner Robins

Occupation: City attorney, Warner Robins

QUESTION: Aren’t you just shy of 30 years as Warner Robins’ city attorney?

ANSWER: Yes. It was 29 years last February.

QUESTION: Who hired you?

ANSWER: I was originally appointed when Ralph Johnson was mayor. Since then I’ve served under eight mayors. I often say the idea was to be here three or four years, but 29 years later I’m still here.

QUESTION: What made you want to be a lawyer?

ANSWER: Some will be amused at this, but when I was a kid I was a fan of Richard Nixon and knew he used his legal career toward politics. My dad felt it was a good background no matter what career I chose.

QUESTION: Was Nixon a difficult role model to hold to?

ANSWER: I got a B in college because I was determined to write something honoring his attributes. He did develop relations with China and had other diplomatic and domestic accomplishments. I’m sure my professor wasn’t a big fan. In my mind, he was always an underdog and had to fight harder to get what he had. He was kind of a whipping boy for the media but rose to be elected president twice.

QUESTION: You appreciate his determination?

ANSWER: Yes, and I like to think one of my best traits is I’m loyal. Losing a letter grade in college but standing on my principles was fine with me.

QUESTION: How has municipal law fulfilled your early career dreams?

ANSWER: It’s a perfect marriage of being a lawyer and serving people through government. The city as an institution is my client, and it’s represented by seven elected officials. I’m appointed to serve not them in particular but the positions of council and mayor. Political interests never outweigh legal issues to be considered. As an attorney and member of the bar I have professional obligations. Any lawyer who becomes a hack won’t survive. If you just give the answer someone wants to hear and aren’t willing to give the best answer under the law you’re not serving well.

QUESTION: You’ve also led through roles in the Georgia Municipal Association, State Bar of Georgia, the International Municipal Lawyers Association and groups too numerous to mention.

ANSWER: It’s an honor to have peers recognize my work and put me in such positions, but I believe it really reflects best on the city itself. In all those roles I represent Warner Robins.

QUESTION: You’re a Warner Robins native.

ANSWER: Right. My mom came to Warner Robins as a young child, and my dad was a banker here. I graduated from Warner Robins High School in 1975, got a business degree from Georgia Tech and my law degree from Mercer.

QUESTION: And now you teach at Mercer.

ANSWER: I’m an adjunct faculty member and have taught local government law for 10 years.

QUESTION: Just what do city attorneys do?

ANSWER: We’re involved in city employee matters, tax matters, insurance issues, a lot of contract and contract review work, land and lease matters, cable TV franchise agreements, litigation, drafting local ordinances, keeping up-to-date and incorporating federal and state changes to laws and policies that affect us -- and a whole array of other things.

QUESTION: In the private sector, that’s more than a dozen specialist areas a lawyer might build a career on.

ANSWER: We cover a lot of ground. I told my legal assistant we should track how many different topics we work on.

QUESTION: Most exciting part of the job?

ANSWER: I’m proud to serve and represent my hometown. Also, in the last eight or 10 years I’ve been involved in the legislative process helping draft legislation on the state level. I really enjoy that because you get to see the bigger picture and how important Warner Robins and our area is.

QUESTION: Most boring?

ANSWER: Contracts. Drudging through every line to make sure nothing bad is buried in there. Takes a lot of time.

QUESTION: Your most significant accomplishment?

ANSWER: As a lawyer, it’s the two or three wins for the city before the Supreme Court of Georgia. Especially after having lost a matter in appeals court. It’s a big deal to have appeals court decisions overturned.

QUESTION: Biggest disappointment?

ANSWER: The few occasions where a personal agenda on the part of officials become more important than actions I think would be for the best interest of the city. But elected officials are human, too, and they have feelings and tempers like all of us.

QUESTION: What’s the city’s toughest challenge?

ANSWER: Not so much from me the attorney, but from me the lifelong resident, I know we’ve had a high-quality standard of life here. The challenge these days as the city gets bigger is to continue that in the face of economic issues and an aging infrastructure. But I’m very upbeat about our new administration. They have a lot of plans, and it’s exciting to see things unfold.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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