MANKATO — A week after the Blue Earth County Board offered its assistant county attorneys a new salary proposal, the attorney for the attorneys made clear that the offer is far from acceptable.
"Perhaps most glaring is the fact that some of the assistant county attorneys will suffer a pay cut under the latest proposal from the Board, while others will see raises of pennies per hour," wrote attorney Kenneth White to District Court Judge Robert Walker.
White also suggested that the board's pay plan was taking the dispute "into an Alice in Wonderland world" and that Walker should "begin the process of imposing appropriate sanctions."
The board's offer was in response to Walker's ruling that county commissioners were in contempt of court for failing to abide by his September order to adjust attorneys' salaries to make them comparable to counterparts in similar Minnesota counties.
Walker had ruled that the board had violated state law in 2012 and 2013 by setting salaries in a way that was "arbitrary, capricious, oppressive and in unreasonable disregard of the responsibilities" of the six attorneys, who prosecute most of the serious criminal cases in Blue Earth County and handle civil matters such as child protection cases.
The board had essentially treated the attorneys as it does all county employees, relying on a pay-equity system that assigns salary figures based on a consulting firm's analysis of the job requirements with upward adjustments for years of service.
State law, however, requires that the employees in elected offices such as county attorney and sheriff be paid based on their experience and qualifications and that the salaries are comparable to what's paid in "similarly situated" counties.
The elected official — in this case County Attorney Ross Arneson — can file a salary appeal with the courts if he believes the law has been violated. That's what Arneson did for both 2012 and 2013, and Walker agreed following written arguments, testimony by county commissioners and the county administrator, and oral arguments by attorneys on each side. Arneson has since filed another salary appeal for 2014.
Following Walker's September ruling, the board appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals and still hopes the appellate court will order Walker to back off until it makes a decision on the appeal later this year. Until that happens, the board is dealing with Walker's contempt ruling and it's offer last week aimed at meeting the Martin County judge's edict that commissioners submit a salary proposal.
White on Thursday suggested that Walker order the board to try again.
"Given the manifest insufficiency of this proposal, the Blue Earth County Attorney would ask this Court to reject the proposal and give the County Board a short period, no more than 15 days, to provide a compliant salary adjustment," White wrote.
The board suggested that its salary plan would provide above average pay, in comparison to similar-sized outstate counties, for the assistant county attorneys both as newcomers and after a decade of service. White's analysis shows that the six attorneys, currently earning between $33 and $40 per hour, would see little or no immediate pay increases under the plan.
The letter did suggest the matter could be resolved outside of the legal system.
"Finally," White wrote to Walker, "my client has requested that I indicate to the Court a continued willingness to negotiate a resolution of these disputes, whether under the guidance of the Court or otherwise."