Charlene Sims, Journal staff
Commission requests revised budget before approving County Attorney's 'Plan B'
County Attorney Burton Harding faced questions from the Linn County Commission after offering to withdraw his letter of resignation. (Journal file photo)
MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commissioners talked with County Attorney Burton Harding by conference call on Monday, March 6, and learned that the only attorney that applied for his position withdrew her letter of interest before the Republican Central Committee convention met last Thursday.
Harding told the commissioners that since no other attorney applied he did not want to leave the county in a lurch without a county attorney, he agreed to withdraw his resignation on the condition that he could hire a second part-time assistant.
Harding suggested that since the commission had agreed to raise the salary of his replacement to $120,000, they could probably take some of the salary increase to pay a second assistant.
Harding also said that his salary might merit a bump up from $87,000 to $95,000 because the scope of the job has increased even with assistants. He said it was something they could discuss when he figures out who he is hiring.
Harding said that he had reached out to some attorneys and thought that he could hire someone for $50,000.
Harding reminded the commissioners that they had given him control over the diversion funds taken in by his office and that while he could not use those funds for payroll, he could tap into those funds to defray some of the county’s expenses with that money so the county could cover the personnel increases.
Commissioner Jim Johnson asked, “How will we know, Burton, that this happened now and a week from now or two weeks from now it won’t happen again? Maybe we should just move on and let them appoint us a county attorney.”
Harding said that obviously no one knows the future. He said the problem from the beginning was just a matter of time and commitment. If he can find someone who will take some of the pressure, there is no issue.
Harding told Johnson that there was no reason to think that there are any problems going forward and that he is giving his commitment that if he can find the person that can finish this up without any issues.
He said the only way he could see a problem in the future is if there is no one forthcoming and he was unable to find assistants and nothing changes. He said then he would have to figure out what he is going to do but that he was hopeful he could find someone.
Commissioner Jason Hightower asked if Harding could bring in a new proposed budget with changes next week. Harding said he would not be available on March 13 but would make sure that he could make it in on March 20.
County Counselor Gary Thompson told Harding to make sure that he could give them a number that day.
Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked Harding if his present assistant who makes about $40,000 was okay with the new assistant making $50,000. Harding said that his present assistant agreed to withdraw his resignation and go back to his salary of about $40,000 as long as he could go back to the level of engagement he wants.
During a special convention of the Linn County Republican Central Committee on Thursday, March 2, the quorum of precinct committee members voted to keep Harding as county attorney with the stipulation that the Linn County Commission would agree to hire additional help.
Following state statutes, the committee was forced to convene the meeting following Harding’s resignation and his notice to leave the post on March 31.
County GOP chair Jackie Taylor said that early on Thursday there was only one candidate for the job, Tiana McElroy, the county attorney for Bourbon County.
However, at about 11 a.m. that morning, McElroy called Taylor to say she was withdrawing her application and would remain at Bourbon County.
Without a candidate for the post and faced with the prospect of Amy Harth, head judge of the 6th Judicial District, drafting an attorney to fill the job, Harding volunteered to stay on. However, he said he would only stay on as a part-time prosecutor and with the condition that he could keep Justin Meeks as a part-time assistant and hire a second assistant to help handle the workload.
When Harding informed the Linn County Commission on Feb. 13 that he would be submitting his resignation, he told commissioners that it was no longer possible for the county attorney post to be a part-time position, which as far as anyone can recall, it has been. With the number of cases needing prosecution, the county needed a full-time prosecutor plus a part-time assistant.
At the time of his resignation, Harding said that he was able to keep his private practice going as long as the prosecutor’s job was a part-time position. However, he said if he had to choose between being a full-time county prosecutor or running a private practice, having his own practice would be his choice. He also said that he was more able to schedule his time around family needs with a private practice.
As for McElroy, both Taylor and Harding said that the Bourbon County Commission offered her a salary raise so she would stay. Both also said she will not be getting as much money as the Linn County job would have paid.
The lack of candidates for the prosecutor post point to a recognized shortage of attorneys in rural Kansas.