As Ben Hall prepares to leave City Hall, questions are again being raised about his involvement in the doling out of city business. But Hall says the law allows him to do pretty much as he pleases.

Hall added that he "would love to see Robert Muhammad's company do business with the city, because I think he'll collect the money."

Muhammad's future dealings with the city will have to be brokered by somebody else, as Hall will be gone from City Hall when the New Year dawns. And while both he and the mayor were all smiles at their news conference announcing Hall's resignation, his departure -- which both claimed was voluntary -- comes after weeks of mounting frustration by Lanier with his city attorney.

That frustration showed last month when Lanier publicly questioned Hall's attempt to skirt the city charter by settling a $150,000 lawsuit without City Council approval. A week later, Lanier removed from the council agenda amendments Hall had proposed to allow his legal department to make future lawsuit settlements without council's approval. Lanier acknowledged the items were placed on the agenda without his knowledge.

A source inside City Hall says Lanier was so angered by Hall's "secret settlement" maneuver that he called the city attorney in for a closed-door meeting.

"The mayor basically told him who's the conductor of this train, and it ain't Ben Hall," the source says.

Hall will now conduct his own train, one that could eventually route him back to City Hall. But for now, at least according to Hall, it's a gravy train on a one-way track. During his farewell announcement, Hall's usually smiling countenance turned a bit sheepish when he was asked if his history of controversy was behind his departure. No, he explained, money -- "seven figures" worth -- was the motivating factor.

A week later, Hall would announce his intent to join the firm of high-powered personal injury litigator John O'Quinn. The announcement came as little surprise. Lanier reportedly had suggested last month -- as the review by the controller's office was questioning Hall's awarding of the subcontract to Bayou City -- that O'Quinn approach his city attorney about a job. And it's not like Hall and O'Quinn haven't worked together before: Hall hired O'Quinn to help the city in a dispute with a pipeline company over unpaid taxes, for which O'Quinn stands to earn a sizable contingency fee from a $14 million settlement.

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