The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 20, 2013

County Board may challenge attorney pay

Board members see flaws in law as case is watched statewide

MANKATO — After finding themselves overwhelmingly on the losing end of a court ruling in September, Blue Earth County commissioners have less than a month to decide one of two possible reactions.

The County Board can focus on how much additional salary to give their assistant county attorneys, hoping it will satisfy a district court judge who ruled that the pay for the attorneys was too low and commissioners had been "arbitrary," "capricious," and "oppressive" in setting the salaries.

Or the board can decide to appeal the decision by Martin County District Judge Robert Walker to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, an option commissioners said they will strongly consider at a closed-door meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

"I felt he was overly one-sided," Board Chairman Drew Campbell said of Walker's ruling that commissioners failed to follow state law in setting the salaries of the six assistant county attorneys and had been underpaying them for years. "... Anybody who understands the English language could look up those words and know the Blue Earth County Board has not been arbitrary and capricious."

In interviews with The Free Press, all five commissioners said they won't make a decision until hearing the advice of County Administrator Bob Meyer and attorney Scott Lepak, the private counsel hired to represent them in the pay appeal. The board needed an outside attorney because the budget appeal was filed by the board's traditional legal counsel — County Attorney Ross Arneson.

Pay up or fight on?

Board members, after winning the salary argument with the county attorneys' union when it went before a labor arbitrator, aren't happy that the attorneys got a rematch via the judicial system.

"We wonder if just philosophically we should file an appeal for making an attempt to take away the local authority in setting these budgets," Campbell said. "The whole law should be appealed in my opinion."

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