The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

May 17, 2013

Commissioners grilled in court over attorney pay

Ruling to come this summer

(Continued)

MANKATO —

The assistant county attorneys have long been placed by Fox Lawson at the C52 classification, identical to the jail supervisor, captains in the sheriff’s department and certain supervisors in the human services department. That’s left veteran assistant county attorneys making as much as $25,000 less than public defenders with similar experience and less than assistant prosecutors similar-sized Minnesota counties, according to documents provided by Arneson, who didn’t attend Friday’s hearing.

County boards in Clay and Crow Wing counties violated state law by arbitrarily and unreasonably paying assistant county attorneys less than comparable counties and by failing to specifically examine the experience, qualifications and performance of the attorneys, according to Minnesota Court of Appeals decisions Arneson provided to the board in 2011 and 2012.

Meyer and board members were repeatedly asked Friday if they considered the qualifications, experience and performance of the six assistant county attorneys. Most responded by saying they rely on their consultant’s classification system, and they didn’t recall any conversations about the specific qualities of individual attorneys or their performance.

The commissioners also were asked by Assistant County Attorney Susan DeVos whether the case law presented to them by Arneson, which hinted that extra diligence is required of county boards when setting attorney salaries, factored into the board’s budget decision.

“I would say probably not,” said Commissioner Will Purvis, a retired sheriff’s deputy and investigator. “I was quite comfortable with the process in place. ... I had been involved in the process as an employee and I thought the process worked quite well.”

Commissioner Vance Stuehrenberg said he believes a board member’s function in employee salaries largely rests with deciding if overall payroll increases are at an appropriate level. Asked by DeVos if his role was essentially to deal with pay increases recommended by others — either the county’s union negotiating team or county management.

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