Teddie Pryor says there’s a common theme running through all this criticism of government attorneys’ salaries — “a jealousy factor.”
If the jobs were open, the Charleston County Council chairman says, the people complaining would be the first in line.
And who can blame them? Lawyering pays pretty darn good.
This week, Warren Wise reported that the Charleston County Aviation Authority was set to give its longtime attorney Arnold Goodstein a $50,000 raise, putting his salary at about $284,000 per annum. On Thursday, they cut it to $265,000.
Some members of the Aviation Authority — which, make no mistake, still has a healthy political divide — wanted to put the job out for bid. But a majority felt the county would suffer if it lost Goodstein’s 20 years of experience dealing with our airport issues.
That’s a fair point.
But it’s good that the authority decided to go over the new contract thoroughly and delay the vote until January. That will give them time to check into the claim that the job should go out for bid. Andy Savage, the authority’s chairman — and a noted attorney himself — says he doesn’t think that will be the case.
Of course, who is reviewing the contract? Yep, an attorney.
Pryor is not happy about that. The airport has in-house folks who could have done it. It is sort of the like the headaches he gets dealing with county attorney issues.
“If you don’t want to spend money on attorneys, don’t do stupid stuff,” he says.
If only it were that easy.
How much money?
The mild consternation over Goodstein’s contract pales in comparison to County Councilman Joe Qualey’s jihad against county attorney Joe Dawson’s salary.
Dawson makes just south of $200K a year, plus $90,000 for running the county’s solid waste department. This year, he raked in another $100,000-plus for handling two county bond issuances.
“We could get better representation for half that,” Qualey says. “It’s just disgusting.”
Qualey says he hears about this constantly from taxpayers, who are miffed that $400,000 of their tax dollars go into one man’s pocket.
Pryor says most of the people complaining are other attorneys, who want a piece of the pie. And Dawson’s salary is actually about $190,000. The $90,000 he gets for the solid waste division comes to an end in January. The bond issue fees only come into play every few years.
And it didn’t have to be that way. Six or seven years ago, Pryor and Councilman Henry Darby proposed giving Dawson a flat fee, something between $195,000 and $225,000, to do everything. But the council said that was too much, and refused.
So Dawson can now charge for extras, like $120,000 for handling bond issues.
“They outsmarted themselves,” Pryor says.
Guess they didn’t read the fine print.
Qualey says Goodstein’s salary is not cheap, but “it’s not out of the realm” for someone with that experience and expertise in aviation law.
Yes, by all accounts Goodstein has kept the airport out of trouble as it has negotiated a series of complicated issues. Before the end of the year, we’ll have a report that says whether he’s paid fairly. The new contract will probably fly.
The big thing here, Savage says, is that all this is being done in the open — something that wasn’t always the case at the airport.
The county may follow the airport’s lead. Qualey wants the council finance committee to review Dawson’s compensation. If it isn’t lowered, Qualey wants him to resign.
Will that do any good? Probably not, but Qualey isn’t giving up. He feels strongly about this. And probably a lot of other people do. Attorney fees are not cheap, and it’s not wrong to raise questions about them when we are paying.
Especially, as Qualey says, other county employees get a $1,000 bonus and a “Merry Christmas” in lieu of a raise.
Pryor — who, as a member of the Aviation Authority, is dealing with both these issues — says harping on this just makes for good politics, even when the truth is another attorney would cost as much or more. It’s just the nature of the profession.
It’s good that the Aviation Authority is going through this process publicly, especially after the flak they caught for hiring state Sen. Paul Campbell as executive director (a decision that was made with good reason).
Maybe this extended look will give folks some confidence everything is OK at the airport. These days, you don’t want to do anything wrong when negotiating a contract.
One little slip, and the attorney fees will eat you alive.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.