The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 22, 2013

Attorney pay dispute headed to appeals court

County attorney says decision wastes tax money

MANKATO — A two-year dispute over county attorney salaries in Blue Earth County will go unresolved for several more months after county commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to bring the dispute to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

County Administrator Bob Meyer said he is hoping a panel of three appeals court judges will issue a ruling that provides government bodies with guidance on how to deal with two conflicting state statutes. Chris Rovney, assistant county attorney, said Meyer and the commissioners are wasting money on a lawsuit that challenges a ruling that, in similar forms, has been repeatedly upheld by the appeals court.

Since 2011 County Attorney Ross Arneson has been urging County Board members to increase the salaries for the attorneys working in his department. He used statistics showing his attorneys are paid substantially less than attorneys in similar-size counties while employees in other departments receive salaries above those averages.

State law requires county commissioners to consider the responsibilities, qualifications and performance of county attorneys when setting their salaries. Appeals court rulings that have resulted from disputes similar to the one in Blue Earth County also have required commissioners to ensure their county attorney salaries are similar to the salaries of attorneys in counties with a similar size and crime rate.

State law also allows county attorneys, sheriffs and other elected officials to challenge the department budgets set by county boards. Ross Arneson did that in 2012 and 2013 after his requests for higher attorney salaries were denied. Rovney said it's likely Arneson will have to file a third challenge in 2014 because the appeals court case won't be resolved before that budget is set.

When the dispute was brought to arbitration by the county attorney's union, the arbitrator ruled in the County Board's favor saying the salary requests were too high. That decision was appealed by Arneson. District Court Judge Robert Walker overturned the arbitrator's decision, saying the County Board was not following the law.

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