Charlene Sims, Journal staff
Commission approves full-time county attorney with assistant
Sixth District Court Judge Andrea Purvis, left, addresses the Linn County Commission on the necessity of having a full-time County Attorney. (Screen capture/Linn County Kansas Live Stream)
MOUND CITY – With two of its three members present, the Linn County Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 21, voted to change the Linn County Attorney position from a part-time post to a full-time position with a salary of $120,000. Commissioner Jason Hightower was unable to attend the meeting.
In the wake of news last week that Linn County Attorney Burton Harding was resigning his post, 6th Judicial District Court Judge Andrea Purvis met with the commissioners to explain to them why the county attorney was at least a full-time position. Purvis explained that state statute requires the county to have a county attorney’s office and that the county is obligated under law to fund the office so the attorney can do what needs to be done to get the job done.
“And that’s a legal obligation that the county has,” said Purvis.
Purvis told the commissioners that there was a shortage of attorneys especially in rural areas. She pointed out that to get an attorney to come here and stay, they would have to be compensated at a certain level.
Later in the meeting, Purvis said that this was a problem all across the country because the pay had not kept up with the market.
The judge said that, coming from a professional background, her opinion was that the Linn County Attorney position was not only a full-time but at least a full-time-and-a-half position based on the amount of work that is required.
She told the commissioners that that position was not just being in court but filing cases, preparation for jury trials, reviewing search warrants and affidavits to get detention orders. She pointed out that these activities do not all happen during the 40-hour work week but also during the night and on weekends.
Purvis said county attorney’s office filed 500-550 cases last year, criminal, misdemeanor and felony. She said that since 2020 Linn County has had at least three murders, and that was something she had never seen in her previous jurisdiction, Dickinson County.
In the 12 years she was there, she said, there was only one murder. Those cases require a lot more resources than a normal case would.
She also said that Linn County also had a high level of sex crimes. Those also require a lot of time and resources.
She explained that last year there were 30 child-in-need-of-care (CINC) cases filed and there have been four filed this year. Purvis said those cases usually take a least a year to file when children are in the state’s custody.
There is usually a one-year wait before parental rights can be terminated, and there are cases that have been open for several years, the judge said. Sometimes those cases last years on end.
She told the commissioners that after a CINC case is filed, the county is responsible until the child is adopted or becomes an adult.
Linn County has a lot of traffic cases from from U.S. Highway 69, said Purvis.
Purvis said in Linn County, there are a lot of fish and game cases compared to where she came from. Linn County also has extradition cases, juvenile offender cases and
care and treatment cases. So it is not just criminals that the county attorney’s office deals with.
The judge said Linn County has 177 criminal cases. In the county where she came from, there were 250 to 300 cases with a population of 10,000 more people. She had three full-time county attorneys, a county attorney and two assistants.
She explained that there are now three judges in Linn County. The magistrate who does traffic matters, Purvis does the juvenile CINC and half of the felony cases and Judge Richard Fisher Jr. does the other half of the felony cases.
She has currently scheduled 11 jury trials this year, and a county attorney has a lot to prepare for those trials.
Purvis told the commissioners that Miami County had three full-time positions, one attorney and two assistants, and Bourbon County has about the same. She said that she was surprised that Linn County had almost as many criminal cases as Bourbon County. She thinks it is because of a lot of the bleed over from from the metro area.
Linn County Republican Central Committee Chair Jackie Taylor told the commissioners that Harding had sent his letter of resignation to the governor and Taylor has sent letters out to the 21 precinct men and women in Linn County about a convention being held on March 2 to choose an attorney. The committee is required to hold a convention for this purpose within 21 days of his notice.
Taylor said that if the committee is unable to appoint someone. Judge Harth will appoint someone. She said that she thought it would be a better situation if people in this county could elect or appoint this new attorney.
It is important to get this done in a timely manner, the convention will be two weeks from this Thursday, said Taylor.
While Taylor said that she had heard that there were two candidates that might have some interest in the position, she has not heard anything because they are waiting to see if the position becomes full-time and what the compensation is.
In a separate statement on Monday evening, Taylor said she had received one application for the post.
Commissioner Jim Johnson asked County Counselor Gary Thompson if the present position was a full-time position. Thompson answered that it had never been a full-time position. He said it was set up with the understanding that the county attorney was paid so many dollars to get the job done and then was free to have a private practice on the side.
Commission Chair Danny McCullough said that he had been researching the number of attorneys in other areas and their salaries. He said that the state of Missouri had made a law that all county attorneys had to be paid $150,000.
County Clerk David Lamb told the commissioners that he always did budget some money in the contingency fund for salaries if they are needed for something. So the county would have some money available there if the commission wants to make changes to that position.
Lamb said that the current count attorney, Burton Harding, is making $87,000 and his part-time assistant is making $43,000.
“It’s important to listen to the people who work with this every single day and important to consider that pay raise to make it all happen, “ said McCullough.
Taylor reiterated that in order to get people to respond to the opening the committee needs to know what salary is being offered.
McCullough made a motion to hire a full-time attorney at $130,000 and a full-time assistant at no more than $75,000 a year. Johnson did not second the motion so it failed.
Thompson said he realized that it was rough to spend that kind of money but the county had to have a county attorney and the only way the commission is going to get one is by spending some money.
Johnson made a motion to hire a full-time county attorney at $120,000 and leave the salary open for the assistant position.
“Why do we want to hamstring the guy (with an assistant and a set wage for the assistant)?” asked Johnson. “Who knows what he will want for an assistant? Let him negotiate.”
McCullough seconded the motion for a full-time attorney at the rate of $120,000 if the commission would be willing to listen to the requests of the new attorney about an assistant and the assistant’s salary. The motion was approved.