CHARLEVOIX -- Charlevoix County may hire a full-time civil counsel staff member.
The county board of commissioners discussed the matter during a meeting Tuesday.
Currently Bryan Graham, a Bellaire attorney, attends board of commissioners meetings and performs legal services for the county on a contractual basis.
For a long time, the county used the prosecuting attorney as civil counsel, said Kevin Shepard, human resources coordinator. "Now we're seeing the cost increase to where the gap isn't that far between bringing one in-house and what we're paying now."
Shepard was tasked by the board's personnel committee to research whether there is a need for an on-staff attorney and to contact other communities that have such a staff member to learn what role they play and what the scope of employing one would cost.
"From my research, I definitely think we can justify it with the duties," he said.
Grand Traverse and Emmet counties both have full-time civil counsel staff members, he reported.
"It would cost, I'm thinking, in the range of $65,000 per year plus benefits," he said, adding that he believes that is a liberal estimate.
Both the civil counsel in Grand Traverse County and in Emmet County have administrative assistants, he explained, but he would not propose that for Charlevoix County.
Hiring an on-staff civil counsel would streamline legal processes at the county, said commissioner Chris Christensen. He cited the example of processing requests under the Freedom of Information Act, which is currently done through the clerk's office for all departments.
"With a staff attorney, we could centralize information," he said. "There's a lot of other issues that come through here where ... we have issues that crop up that we need a response without delay."
"Having your own civil council on staff, that person is available anytime," added commissioner Ron Reinhardt. "I think on-staff is the best possible solution."
Commissioner Larry Sullivan did not agree.
"I'm not opposed to looking into it," he said, "However, I've been a staunch believer of outside civil council for more than 20 years." Perhaps, he suggested, the county could refer questions to its current civil counsel, but not ask him to be at every meeting in order to save money.
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