County Council taking a look at the stipend for county attorney Joe Dawson
Charleston County Council will begin committee discussions today on the responsibilities of County Attorney Joe Dawson, his compensation and council oversight of the office. His pay alone — a total of some $400,000 — demands council’s attention.
So does his status as the de facto head of the county’s solid waste program, a part-time position for which he receives $90,000 a year. Council members Dickie Schweers and Joe Qualey have argued that the money would be better spent to hire a full-time department head for the program, and the county administrator has since advertised for the position.
Both councilmen insist that oversight of the attorney, who is hired under contract by council, has been lacking.
Certainly, a comparison of county attorney budgets of the state’s three most populous counties raises questions about what Charleston County is spending.
Greenville County has a budget of $658,083 for a staff of six, including four attorneys.
Richland County has a budget of $968,894 for its legal department, which currently has four attorneys and an office manager. Richland’s budget for legal services soared this year because of a major lawsuit, according to a department spokesman. In 2011, its budget was $711,510; the year before, $675,994.
Charleston County’s legal department budget currently is $1,045,201. The department has seven full-time employees, including five assistant county attorneys. The county also keeps three attorneys on retainer for specialized services, including bond work and property matters.
Mr. Qualey wants the discussion to include who should hire the attorney and whether he should be a full-time county employee, rather than a contract attorney with a private practice.
Richland County’s experience recommends full-time status, at least from a cost standpoint. Its county attorney is a full-time employee with a salary of $126,987.
Further, Mr. Qualey wants to review the continued involvement of Mr. Dawson in the county’s solid waste program. An 18-month extension was approved in November.
Mr. Qualey also wants council to examine the billing standards for legal services to ensure that all are adequately documented. As he notes, “It’s all public money.”
As such, it should be subject to close scrutiny by the elected representatives of county taxpayers.
The cost of Mr. Dawson’s services indicate that council should be paying more attention to the bottom line.