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Attorney salary range gets another look

Commissioners voted to table the county attorney discussion during last month’s meeting, but the Legal Services Oversight Committee is coming back in March with a different recommendation.
At the February meeting, commissioners tabled discussion on a resolution from the Legal Services Committee that recommended hiring a full-time attorney at a salary range of $110,000-$140,000.
Many commissioners feared including a salary range when advertising the opening would lock the county into a higher rate.
“The way I took it is that commissioners didn’t want a senior attorney,” Chair Greg Matherly said during the committee’s March 4 meeting.
Interim County Attorney Keith Bowers agreed with his evaluation. “I think this committee agreed that a range would tailor the applicants,” he said.
Commissioner Alpha Bridger said including a salary range makes sense to her. “I don’t think anyone is expecting F. Lee Bailey or Robert Kardashian,” she said. “I don’t think someone like that would want it, and we could always pay higher.”
Mayor Dan Eldridge said experience in county government law is the more important factor. “I don’t know that someone with five years of experience is at any greater disadvantage than someone with 15 years,” he said. “Why would you pay the higher salary rather than hiring a staff attorney at $75,000?”
Matherly said the intention of the salary range was to find candidates with county law experience.
“The range was to catch the big fish, someone with government or municipal experience,” he said. “I think we’re taking a step back.”
Commissioner Sam Phillips said he agreed with the resolution as presented. “The day of the $50 lawyer is gone,” he said. “We don’t have to list the bottom number, just say up to ($140,000).”
Bowers said if the committee was going to remove the bottom number of the range, they might as well take it out completely. Commissioner Steve Light moved to drop the bottom number, but the motion died on the floor for lack of a second.
“If I was going to apply, I would go online and see what is budgeted,” Commissioner Mitch Meredith said. The budgeted amount is $150,000, according to Eldridge.
Matherly said he doesn’t think the county would save money with a staff attorney because that person would constantly need to call in outside assistance.
Legal Services member Mike Rutherford disagreed. “I think you need to look at a junior attorney based on the amount of in-house work that never goes to litigation, knowing you would be paying outside attorneys (at times),” he said.
Commissioner Doyle Cloyd made a motion, seconded by Light, to advertise for the county attorney position with no salary range included.
“We will screen (the responses) as they come in,” Cloyd said. The motion passed with unanimous approval.
Bowers said he will consult the private act to confirm the correct wording, and a new resolution will be submitted for the full commission’s consideration during the March 24 meeting.
If the Legal Services recommendation is approved, Bowers will bring the advertising and interview schedule to the April committee meeting.