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


The law in question allows certain elected officials, most notably county attorneys and sheriffs, to appeal budgets set for their offices, including salary levels for their subordinates.

Along with setting up the appeal process, the law — and interpretations of the law by the state appeals court over several decades — require county boards to take extra steps in determining salaries for employees of those offices. The procedures commissioners must follow go well beyond what's required in setting wages for the majority of county workers, including personally examining the duties, responsibilities, qualifications and performance of workers in those offices and making sure that salaries are comparable to "similarly situated counties" in the state.

Walker, after looking at documents filed by each side and hearing testimony in court from the five commissioners and Meyer, ruled that the board consistently failed to meet those standards. Salaries for Blue Earth County's assistant county attorneys top out at just under $80,000 a year, while their counterparts were earning roughly $20,000 to $30,000 more in certain counties that Walker considered "similarly situated."

That, Walker wrote, showed that the commissioners' salary determinations were "arbitrary, capricious, oppressive, and in unreasonable disregard" for the attorneys' duties — and in violation of the law.

"This conclusion is unavoidable given the board's failure to consider relevant comparable county data and impermissible reliance on a flawed classification system," Walker wrote in his Sept. 12 ruling.

If Lepak and Meyer believe that the appeals court would likely reach the same conclusion, Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg of Mankato would be reluctant to support an appeal — even though he disagrees with Walker's ruling.

"We don't want to throw money away," Stuehrenberg said. "If the attorney doesn't feel we have a chance of winning the appeal, it would really be a waste of taxpayers' money to do so."

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