The commissioners relied on its salary consultant — Fox Lawson and Associates — to decide where assistant county attorneys should be placed on the county pay scale based on their job descriptions and supervisory duties. Once on that pay scale, county employee wages increase by preset "steps" for each year of employment. At 10 years and beyond, the steps end and any pay hikes for workers are limited to countywide cost-of-living adjustments provided to all employees (unless they move into a new job that ranks higher on the Fox Lawson pay scale).
"... The board relied on the Fox Lawson classification with little to no independent investigation," Walker wrote. "... The board attempted to outsource its consideration (of state law)."
The board won the argument with county attorneys' union when salary negotiations ended up before an arbitrator, who ruled last year that the attorneys' requested salary too ambitious and that they should receive the same increase as other county workers. But Walker said the results of arbitration conducted under labor law don't excuse the board from following other statutes related to setting salaries of county attorneys.
Commissioners' insistence on holding all employee wage increases to the same COLA "reflects the board's preoccupation with limiting the potential increase in the (property tax) levy," Walker wrote.
Rovney said he understands that many county residents might not see a top salary of nearly $80,000 as unreasonably low. But he points to what other professionals are paid, what his counterparts in the metro area or other regional centers earn, and the amount of debt that many attorneys carry after earning their law degree.
"I'm 47 years old and I still have over $100,000 of debt from law school," he said, suggesting it's not uncommon in the county attorney's office for lawyers to be paying $700 a month on student loans.