The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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May 17, 2013

Commissioners grilled in court over attorney pay

Ruling to come this summer

MANKATO — A pair of Mankatoans, unhappy with their pay, had the opportunity Friday to place their bosses under oath and grill them about how and why they made the salary decisions they made.

While it might be a dream scenario for employees everywhere who feel underpaid or underappreciated, the salary appeal by assistant Blue Earth County prosecutors before a district court judge didn’t bring any immediate results.

Judge Robert Walker, a Martin County district court judge who’s hearing the case because Blue Earth County judges would have a conflict of interest, won’t issue a ruling in the case until sometime this summer.

The budget appeal, officially titled “Ross Arneson v. Blue Earth County Board of Commissioners,” involves six of Arneson’s assistants who the longtime county attorney argues have been grossly underpaid compared to some of the public defenders they face in court and compared to assistant county attorneys in similar Minnesota counties.

“All we’re asking is that they follow the law,” said Chris Rovney, the assistant county attorney who handled the questioning of County Administrator Bob Meyer Friday.

Meyer and all five commissioners, issued subpoenas by county deputies, were forced to take the stand during the evidentiary hearing. The budget appeal process is allowed under a relatively rarely used section of Minnesota law that allows elected county officers — such as county attorneys and sheriffs — to take their county board to court if they think they’ve been treated unfairly by the board-approved budget.

Meyer and the commissioners mostly testified that they handled the salaries for the assistant county attorneys in a similar way as the other 400 or so county workers. Workers are placed in job classifications by consulting firm Fox Lawson and Associates based on job descriptions that detail the duties, responsibilities, decision-making authority and work conditions of a particular job. Each classification carries a specific wage range, and the system meets pay-equity requirements under state law.

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