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Mille Lacs Messenger

County considers attorney appointment

By by A. R. V. van Rheenen,

2023-03-15

alycia.vanrheenen@apgecm.com

Mille Lacs County is continuing its search for a county attorney. Joe Walsh, former county attorney for Mille Lacs County, submitted his official resignation, effective March 1, which the board of commissioners accepted March 7.

Walsh made a recommendation of who should serve as interim county attorney when he initially told the board of his intent to resign. County Administrator Dillon Hayes sought outside counsel regarding the legality and state statutory requirements to appoint an interim or temporary county attorney. From that counsel, Hayes said it is “not necessary” for the board to appoint an interim or acting county attorney; rather, the board can simply proceed with the interview process and then appoint someone to fill out the remainder of the term.

Walsh already tasked assistant county attorney, Erica Madore, to run the office. Madore is also Walsh’s recommendation to take on the position full-time.

Madore was present at the meeting and said there is some concern over who has authority to sign paperwork, appear in appeals court and various other duties. She also said Walsh’s email has been shut down, and messages he may be getting have not been redirected.

Hayes reiterated that there is no statutory basis for a temporary appointment, but rather the appointment should be for the whole term. By the board’s wish, Hayes will consult outside counsel once more and explore the legality of appointing someone temporarily.

Commissioners, during their work session, reviewed questions for county attorney candidates. Personnel Director Karly Fetters and Hayes said interviews would take place in two rounds, the second of which would take place with the board. Once a candidate is chosen and hired, the individual will operate as an elected official.

The county is also considering options for in-house civil counsel. Previously, Hayes addressed the board about potentially establishing a separate office that would operate as the county’s attorney, who would assist with ordinance development and violations, statute interpretation, etc. While some of these things can be processed through the county attorney’s office, they haven’t been. What is lacking right now, Hayes said, is processing legal violations with standardized violation letters and timely response.

Chair Phil Peterson said at a leadership meeting, department heads expressed interest in seeing a position like this established. Hayes said the position would provide a “higher comfort level with what we’re doing.” He sees the position being something that would be long-term, but not full-time.

A few options were presented to the board. The county could contract with an outside firm to handle civil questions; the county could potentially work with another county to cost share for an agreement with a law firm; or someone within the county attorney’s office could be tasked to handle in-house civil issues.

Commissioner Dave Oslin said he would like to give whoever comes on as the new county attorney a chance to reorganize. He added that previously there was someone within the office who was dedicated to the county board.

Funding for the position could potentially result in future tax increases. The position would hopefully increase accountability, to make sure timelines are met and requests are fulfilled, Hayes said.

By the March 7 meeting, Hayes had reached out to an attorney on retainer by the county, who said it’s difficult to know how many hours would be dedicated to the position, and therefore a cost estimate couldn’t be given at this time.

Madore said she would “like the opportunity” to try and provide the services for in-house questions, but acknowledged it would be “time-intensive.” Madore has more experience in criminal cases, but she is working on improving her civil skills.

The board indicated they would be open to using their attorney on retainer for the next month to see how it goes.

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