Charleston County Council paid its attorney about $400,000 last year, a rate much higher than comparable South Carolina counties paid their lawyers, some council members said.

Councilman Joe Qualey, chairman of council’s Administration, Policy and Rules Committee, proposed Thursday that County Attorney Joe Dawson, who now reports to council, instead report to County Administrator Kurt Taylor, a move Qualey said could improve the management of the county’s legal services. The committee will continue the discussion at its next meeting in two weeks, Qualey said.

Committee member Dickie Schweers said he thinks Dawson does good work, “but council has proven it is incapable of managing the county attorney.”

Dawson works on a contract basis and is not a full-time county employee.

His contract requires that he be paid at least $172,000, Qualey said, but Dawson can charge for all of the services he performs.

As an example of how Dawson is not being properly managed, Schweers said the attorney already was making more than $300,000 annually under that system when he took on additional duties running the county’s new solid-waste program three years ago. He has made an additional $90,000 per year each of those years for running that program, Schweers said.

He also said other county employees take on additional duties without additional pay. He’s not sure why Dawson is making an additional $90,000. “I’m not sure what the solution is,” Schweers said, “but I’m willing to explore something different.”

Councilman Henry Darby said moving Dawson under the county administrator would make him less independent, which would put council at a disadvantage.

Darby also said that a few years ago, some council members tried to get approved a $225,000 salary for Dawson, but that was shot down.

Councilman Elliott Summey said some council members two years ago conducted a survey and found Dawson’s pay was high compared with attorneys working for other counties. But the cost of the county’s legal services overall was about average. It appeared Dawson was doing in-house some work that would have been costly if outside lawyers were doing it, he said.

And, he added, Dawson’s work on the county’s solid-waste program has saved the county $30 million. The program was a disaster before Dawson took over, Summey said.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.