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Commissioners want change in private act for attorney

Washington County commissioners voted Monday to request state legislators amend the private act passed in 2012 to create an Office of County Attorney that reports to the 25-member board.
“Essentially, we’re (proposing) removing sections to re-establish the position as one that reports to the mayor,” said Commissioner Tom Krieger, chair of the Legal Services Oversight Committee.
Krieger said the restrictions in the original private act need to be removed in order for the committee to make a recommendation on moving forward.
According to Commissioner Mitch Meredith, deleting sections seven through 14 follows the reporting structure of the state’s general law. “This puts our county under the same rules as the rest of the state’s counties,” he said. “It will come back to us in a resolution that needs a two-thirds (majority) vote.”
Commissioner Mike Ford asked if the changes would affect board members’ access to the county attorney.
“No, you can still pick up the phone and call him any time,” Meredith said.
Commissioner Joe Wise voiced his support of the recommendation. “The way the private act is written is very political,” he said. “The value is to protect this position so the attorney can tell us what we need to hear without worrying about offending 13 people.”
When Commissioner Todd Hensley agreed Washington County needs to operate like the other 94 counties in the state, Ford asked if there had been any problems in the last three years under the current private act.
“It’s affecting the hiring of a new attorney,” Commission Chair Greg Matherly said. “We’re stuck in an interim-county-attorney mode.”
Wise predicted that would not change. “I’ve talked to three senior attorneys who would not walk away from their practices for a roll of the dice on reporting to 25 people,” he said.
Among the sections designated for removal are:
The county attorney for Washington County shall by selected by, employed by, report to and serve all needs and pleasures of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.
A separate office of county staff attorney for Washington County may also be established for additional legal services as a full-time or part-time office at the discretion of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners under this act shall determine the compensation, term of office, duties and responsibilities, qualifications, job description and operational needs of all attorneys employed by Washington County.
Commissioners approved requesting an amendment to the private act with a unanimous voice vote.