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

(Continued)

The county had already paid Lepak just under $25,000 through the end of June to handle the court hearing and draft the written arguments submitted to Walker, according to Meyer.

Commissioner Mark Piepho of Skyline said the odds of winning before the Court of Appeals is a factor. But he's not inclined to let additional legal costs dissuade him from appealing the ruling, saying that it could cost $100,000 to $250,000 in cumulative pay raises in the county attorney's office to satisfy Walker's order.

"And then you carry it on over the years," Piepho said.

Under scrutiny

Board members also said they are likely to consider the future impact of a pay-off to the county attorneys — and of accepting without challenge what they consider to be a flawed ruling of a bad state law. Would it prompt even more demands in coming years by the Blue Earth County attorneys or, potentially, employees of the sheriff's office? Would it encourage employees in other counties to pursue budget appeals?

"We worry about that as we talk to colleagues in other counties," said Commissioner Kip Bruender. "... They say, 'If this happens (in Blue Earth County), it could open the door.'"

Piepho said the case is definitely being watched across the state.

"AMC (the Association of Minnesota Counties), they're interested in it," Piepho said of the board's pending decision. "And other counties are. It sets such a precedent."

Other board members see value in an appeal because they believe state law needs to be clarified. Commissioner Will Purvis of Vernon Center said the law allowing for salary appeals for a handful of county employees seems to conflict with another state law requiring local governments to have intricate systems in place to ensure that all employees receive equal pay for equal work.

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