3 of 6 commissioners vote to terminate county attorney

Published 10:34 am Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three commissioners voted Tuesday to terminate County Attorney Brown Moseley, but three others voted to keep him, resulting in a tie.

During Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, Commissioner Russell Smith made the initial motion to terminate the county attorney position, stating that it was costing the county too much money. In the vote, he was joined by Commissioner Dr. Earl Perry and Commissioner Dr. Charles T. Stafford. Commissioners Dr. David C. “Butch” Mosely, Oliver Sellers and Frank Loeffler voted against Smith’s motion, effectively creating a tie and stalemate and ensuring Moseley would continue serving as county attorney.

Smith, who is the board’s vice-chairman and also serves on the finance committee, told commissioners that the committee was concerned about some of the hours Moseley had billed to the county.

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“The finance committee was recently given charges by our county attorney for the month of August,” Smith said. “We were very disturbed to learn that the county had spent over $174,140 for attorney services, which is not just his, through August. At the present rate, Decatur County will spend over $200,000 for county services.”

However, Moseley vehemently denied Smith’s allegations, in a later interview with The Post-Searchlight. Moseley stated that the number Smith used in Tuesday’s meeting was actually a cumulative total of all non-retainer hours that Moseley has billed since he began working for the county in 2005.

Moseley explained that he is paid on a monthly retainer of $3,000, which covers the first 50 working hours. Any additional work beyond those 50 hours is paid at a rate of $100-per-hour for general services, and $125-per-hour for litigation-related services. Moseley said that the $174,140 figure is the total that he has been paid from the “non-retainer general services” account, since 2005.

Both Moseley and County Administrator Gary Breedlove confirmed that the county attorney has been paid $66,217.50, for the 2012 calendar year through the month of August.

Moseley told The Post-Searchlight that Smith was very “irresponsible” to discuss erroneous data at a public meeting.

“[Any billing] that I’ve done was available to any commissioner or anyone else who wanted to know,” Moseley said. “And I think for Russell Smith to come in there and make the statement that he made, without trying to find out any facts, is totally irresponsible.”

Moseley also told Smith during the meeting that his figures were incorrect, but did not immediately elaborate into what was wrong with them.

“When I prove to you that the statement that you just made is absolutely incorrect, I want you to apologize in front of everybody here,” Moseley said, his voice rising at times. “And I can do it. We can either do it now, or we can do it later.”

Perry also expressed his concern about Moseley’s billing, particularly some charges for “packing for meetings” and phone calls.

“On Aug. 14, there was a charge of three-tenths of an hour, which is 18 minutes, and the charge to the citizens was $15,” Perry said. “That may be insignificant, but it’s not insignificant in the overall picture. And that was to pack for a commission meeting. On Aug. 14, there was a charge for two-tenths of an hour, which is 12 minutes, which ended up being a charge of $10 for Mr. Moseley to walk to his office down the hall to one of the county’s finance offices and use the fax machine to fax a letter.”

Perry also stated that the county at one time had a full-time county attorney who was paid a flat rate of $65,000 per year, and it would be good to go back to a similar pay structure.

Commissioner Mosely said he was “blindsided” by the discussion Tuesday, which had not been on the original agenda. At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, Smith asked for it to be added to the agenda under the heading “personnel.”

“It appears to me that this is an effort to side-step and go around what would be the right and fair thing to do,” Mosely said. “And that would have been for the finance committee to sit down with Mr. Moseley prior to this public embarrassment.”

Smith said that he has previously brought up his concern about attorney fees in executive session, but would always get overruled.

“I have been overruled by [Commissioner Mosely] for more than three years,” he said. “I recall that last year I came before an executive session and I showed where it was going to cost in excess of $124,000, plus having office space, and I felt we should remove the county attorney from the county office, and I was overruled on that.

“Plus, I said that we needed a contract. I said nothing is written [about attorney] charges; we need a contract. That fell on deaf ears, and as you know, nothing was done.

“There was certainly no intent to embarrass anybody. Obviously, I’ve hit a nerve with certain people.”

Moseley quickly interjected, “You certainly have. The figures that you threw out are dead wrong.”

After the vote, Smith expressed that he felt he had done the right thing.

“I wanted all of us to vote our convictions and for our constituents, and not vote for friendships,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened.”