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County Council, April 5

The issue of the County Attorney’s remuneration, again!
Record mosquito numbers

Warwick Jones

The remuneration of the County Attorney has been an issue dogging Council for years. At the core is the unusual way his remuneration is set. He receives a base amount but is allowed to charge for extra work. This extra work, relating to important legal matters involving the County, was very significant in some years and boosted his total remuneration. Part of that boost in the last year or so was $90,000 a year for heading the Solid Waste Division. In the last year, the total remuneration was $400,000, and compares with a “base” of $170,000.

So is the County Attorney paid too much? How do you judge? Compared to other high level Charleston County officials, he is very well paid. Salaries for senior staff exceed $100,000 a year though usually are less than $150,000. A comparison with other County and municipal attorneys suggests also that he is well compensated. But this is to ignore the success of the Attorney. Over the years we have covered Council meetings, we have heard nothing but praise for his ability and the millions of dollars he has saved the County. And as Chairman Pryor said at last night’s meeting, much of the legal work undertaken by other counties and municipalities is “farmed out”. By keeping much more “in house”, the overall legal bill of the County is minimized.

Council member Qualey is probably largely responsible for raising the issue of remuneration again. His hostility to the County Attorney has been apparent in some recent meetings of Council. The Council member is Chair of the Administration, Policy, Rules Committee (APRC) and last night. he initiated discussion to make the County Auditor and County Attorney responsible to the County Administrator. Presently both report to the Chair of Council. This discussion followed another, to bring all issues that came to a vote in a committee before the full Finance Committee regardless of the vote. For example, if an issue were voted on in the APRC, it would still go before the Finance Committee regardless of the voting result.

Council members Qualey, Darby, Summey, Schweers and Council Chairman Pryor are the members of the APRC and were the only members of Council permitted to speak at the APRC meeting last night.

Council member Darby was quick to rise at the end of Council member Qualey’s introduction. He and others questioned the purpose of changing the rules relating bringing all issues to the Finance Committee. Why bother with a committee if everything were to come before the Finance Committee regardless? Council member Darby later declared that there was a vendetta being conducted. It became clearer with more discussion that he considered it aimed at the County Attorney.

It didn’t take long thereafter to get to the remuneration issue. But it passed first through a discussion on the merits of keeping both the County auditor and attorney responsible directly to the Chair. Council member Qualey thought that placing them under the Administrator would make each more accountable. But Councilmember Darby and Chairman Pryor did not agree. They argued that both needed to be independent and not influenced by the administrator in making their views known to Council. Council member Schweers suggested that the County needed a new policy and that to help shape it, information should be gathered as to what other Counties and municipalities do and pay. He declared that it seemed the County was incapable of managing the County attorney, a declaration that was aimed at the Council and not the County attorney.

Chairman Pryor was the first to raise the specific amount that the County attorney received, Council member Darby objected that if there were to be a discussion of remuneration, it should not be in public. Council member Schweers then noted that all salaries and remuneration were available to the public. So what?

Council member Schweers recollected that he supported the appointment of County Attorney Dawson to the head of Solid Waste. But he could not recollect any discussion of his extra remuneration. He said last night that he would have thought that there would be no extra remuneration. In industry, folk are often tasked with extra duties and without additional compensation. Chairman Pryor, later in the discussion stated that “all things came before Council. The information was always there”. Council member Schweers also said that he thought County Attorney Dawson did a “stellar job” and his views were not personal.

Council member Summey noted the problems and inefficiencies in Solid Waste before County Attorney Dawson took control. He pointed to the large financial gain of $30 million and the reduction in the cost of waste disposal to well below the $47 a ton that prevailed before. He noted that the Council asked Attorney Dawson to take on the task, a decision to which Council member Schweers agreed. In closing he asked rhetorically that if we can’t manage the Attorney, should we change the management. It was unclear as to whether he was suggesting that Council choose another Chair

Council member Darby declared that he was a friend of County Attorney Dawson. He has been a consistent supporter but last night he declared he was prepared to take a second look at the issue of remuneration. But if there “were a fault, it was not that of Mr. Dawson, but of Council. Let’s be fair and honest, and do what is right“.

Council member Qualey was asked at the conclusion of the meeting as to what happened next. He said that most likely a vote would be taken at the next meeting to move all issues before committees to the Finance Committee regardless of the vote. However, he said the issue of accountability needed more discussion.

Almost certainly, Council members not on the APRC have views they wish to express. And as well as the issue of remuneration of County Attorney Dawson and to whom he reports, there is still the issue of Solid Waste. Who is to manage it? What is the role of the consultant who has been retained well beyond the time originally thought necessary and at considerable cost. We’d also be interested in Attorney Dawson’s opinion on some of the views expressed. Council member Summey said that he should be accountable to all members of Council. Sounds good but how practical? Serving 9 bosses? Surely the Chairman should have the ultimate say, and if necessary, seek guidance from the full Council.

The next meetings of the APRC and Finance Committee should be lively.

Record mosquito numbers
James Neal, Director of Public Works told us something that we suspected. Last March was the worst on record for mosquitos. He got a laugh when he began to forecast relief because temperatures were expected to drop to 50 degrees and many would be killed, but then brushed this off as wishful thinking.

He said the County had been actively spraying particularly in the James Island and South Santee areas. Planes usually sprayed between 11 pm and 8 am.

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