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Commissioners change
county legal setup

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent
 

  Henry County government’s in-house legal department has been abolished.

  In a 5-1 vote at its Aug. 19 regular meeting, the Board of Commissioners moved to retain two local law firms to handle the county’s legal needs beginning at 9 a.m. Sept. 2, when the next regular meeting begins.

  The McDonough firm of Power & Jaugstetter will share duties with the Jonesboro firm of Fincher, Denmark, Williams & Minnifield. Patrick Jaugstetter was in-house county attorney from 2003 to 2008, while the Fincher firm has represented the city of Stockbridge since the beginning of this year.

LaTonya Wiley, the current county attorney, joined the county’s staff in 2004 and became county attorney in late 2008. Currently the county legal department’s budget is $450,505 for a total staff of 4 or 5 employees. Wiley’s salary is $130,885.25. Commissioners did not comment at the meeting on the job status of the current legal staff beyond Sept. 1.

  The rates for the new legal counsel have not been specified, either the amounts or the type of billing (flat fee or hourly). County manager Jim Walker said that those rates are still being negotiated. Walker is the only county employee whose salary is higher than Wiley’s.

  The vote came at the very end of the meeting after the commissioners met in executive session. District II commissioner Brian Preston made the motion, which was seconded by District I commissioner Bo Moss.

  “Henry County continues to be a growing community. As a result, our needs change,” said Preston before the vote.

  “In a community with over 200,000 residents, our in-house legal department with a single attorney has reached its limits. The Board of Commissioners recognizes that we need additional resources, but in tight economic times we need to find these resources as cost-effectively as possible,” Preston continued. “The solution is to outsource our legal department to outside firms that have experience in local government, and attorneys with specialized knowledge to address our growing needs and unique legal challenges.”

  Chairman Tommy Smith made it clear that he did not agree with the move.

  “Without going into detail, the chair thinks this is one of the worst mistakes Henry County could make,” said Smith. “Most counties, when they get bigger, they get their own legal staff. Now, the bigger we get, we are outsourcing.”

  Smith did not give specifics, but he added, “I think it’s for personal reasons we’re doing this.”

  The motion included a directive to amend the county budget accordingly.

  Smith was the lone dissenting vote.

  The meeting was adjourned immediately after the vote.

  As for the Fincher firm’s representation of Stockbridge, there was some question at press time as to whether that would continue.

  The City Council scheduled a special called meeting for Tuesday evening, after this edition went to press, with only an executive session on the agenda. Several sources told the Times that city officials were not pleased with having the same firm represent the city and the county, and the purpose of that meeting was to discuss the possibility of the city retaining new legal counsel. City officials did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

 

 

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