STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
COUNTY OF HENDERSON
SEPTEMBER 23, 1999
The Henderson County Board of Commissioners met for a special called meeting at 3:00 p.m. in the Commissioners= Conference Room of the Henderson County Office Building at 100 North King Street, Hendersonville, North Carolina. This was a workshop with Sheriff Erwin to discuss implementation of a County Legal Department.
Those present were: Chairman Grady Hawkins, Vice-Chair Bill Moyer, Commissioner Renee Kumor, Commissioner Don Ward, Commissioner Marilyn Gordon, County Manager David E. Nicholson, Assistant County Manager/Interim County Attorney Angela S. Beeker, and Clerk to the Board Elizabeth W. Corn.
Also present were: Sheriff Erwin, Budget Analyst Selena Coffey, Risk Management Director Bill Byrnes, and Bill Blalock as well as the following employees of the Sheriff=s Department:
Debbie Ward, Human Resources Director
Lt. Linda Westall, Civil Processes
Sgt. Ruth Weston, Civil Process
Capt. Raines, Patrol
Capt. Edney, Detective Div.
Lt. McDonald, Drug Div.
CALL TO ORDER/WELCOME
Chairman Hawkins called the meeting to order and welcomed those in attendance. He explained that the purpose of today=s meeting was a work session with the Sheriff to discuss the implementation of a County Legal Dept. He also had planned a discussion of county facilities.
Chairman Hawkins reminded the Board that during budget deliberations the Board approved the establishment of a legal department for the county to handle a variety of legal requirements that we have across several departments, one being the law enforcement and public safety. Other departments involved were Department of Social Services, Dept. Of Health, and the Tax Collector as well as others. The Commissioners have met with all those involved except the Sheriff=s Dept. He asked Sheriff Erwin to comment on his department=s legal needs.
SHERIFF=S DEPARTMENT LEGAL NEEDS
Sheriff Erwin distributed copies of a 6 page job description for the Sheriff=s Staff Attorney.
On Dec. 5, 1994, when Mr. Erwin was sworn in as Sheriff, he appeared before the Board of Commissioners that evening and explained to the Board that he planned to restructure the Sheriff=s Office and there were seven Captains. Commissioners Kumor and Ward were on the Board at that time. Sheriff Erwin felt that seven Captains was too many top management people for the amount of people in the department. In the restructuring process he planned to put more responsibilities on four captains. He looked at the needs of victim=s rights, career development and a human resource needs. He wished to replace the three Captains positions with a Human Resources Director, a Victim=s Services Director, and a Staff Attorney. On December 5, 1994 the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to allow him to do the restructuring of his department. Commissioner Edney made a motion to recognize that Sheriff Erwin was an elected official and that as long as he could do it within the budget, that he should be able to do whatever he felt was appropriate for his office as Sheriff. In this restructuring process he also saved the County $2,039 a year and that does not factor in benefits.
Sheriff Erwin stated that the Staff Attorney job description was self explanatory but he wanted some of his officers to explain how they utilize the services of the Staff Attorney in their day to day activities and how that differed with how they did their jobs before having a Staff Attorney to call on. The Staff Attorney is on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
Sheriff Erwin put a large box on the table and stated AThere=s correspondence between me and the Staff Attorney for the past four and a half years, that=s just correspondence with me as the Sheriff.@
Debbie Ward does personnel work but also involved in her job is hand gun permits for carrying permits and purchase permits. She stated that 368 applications for carrying a concealed handgun have been approved so far. Twenty-three permits are pending now, four have been denied and one has been revoked. The Staff Attorney has to look at each permit individually before they go to the Sheriff and make a decision on whether they qualify for the permit. Being in law enforcement, they work on a different schedule. She relies on the Staff Attorney to assist her in figuring overtime pay for their employees, contracts, etc. The Staff Attorney also guides her and the Sheriff on how to handle personnel issues. He makes sure that the department follows the fair labor standards. The Sheriff=s Department was in trouble with the fair labor standards when Sheriff Erwin took office. They have since changed their way of handling pay so that they stay within compliance with the fair labor standards.
Chairman Hawkins asked if Debbie or the Sheriff knew how other counties were handling these issues. Neither knew. Chairman Hawkins also asked about in-service training. Sheriff Erwin explained that the Staff Attorney can give the officers immediate updates on new legislation at roll call to make sure that every officer is aware of the new law rather than having to delay this information to officers in a training session.
Lt. Linda Westall and Sgt. Ruth Weston came forward to discuss how they rely on the Staff Attorney. Lt. Westall stated that she was in civil process. She stated that there are not many Attorneys in town who know much about civil process, they will call the Sheriff=s Dept. with questions about civil process. Once the civil papers get to Lt. Westall and Sgt. Weston, they go out into the field, i.e. to seize property. One that they had recently they asked that the Staff Attorney go with them. They knew that there would be problems from the contact they had with the defendant previously. They were in the field about 9:30 a.m., Linda, Ruth, and Mac, and they were there until about 4:00 p.m. getting the mobile home off the property. The man did everything he could to prevent them from taking the mobile home. Trees had to be moved and they had to rely on Mac=s expertise of what they could legally do. They needed the Staff Attorney right then. Many times they are out on a scene and need an immediate answer. They can=t wait to get a call back, they need an immediate response. With a Staff Attorney on Board, if he is not in the office they page him and get a response from him within five minutes. Prior to having Mac on board as Staff Attorney, she would call Mr. Fox, an Attorney who was on retainer with the County, and she might have to call two or three times and then sometimes he wasn=t knowledgeable on the civil law. Lt. Westall stated that he once told her AWell, just go ahead and do it and then I=ll defend you in court if it=s wrong@. They need someone knowledgeable in civil law.
Sgt. Ruth Weston explained about an incident where she had to go out to seize a car and the owner was very ugly and would not allow them to have the keys to the vehicle. They had to drag the car up onto a wrecker to remove it from the property. She stated that civil process law is old, from the 1800's. She also handles evictions and sometimes has to call Mac in to help her.
Chairman Hawkins asked what they do when Mac is on vacation. Lt. Westall stated that he=s never been on vacation when they=ve needed him.
Sheriff Erwin stated that Lt. Westall and Sgt. Weston have served 6,000 civil papers and he has received more praise on the quality of the job these two do than you can imagine. Sheriff Erwin discussed how nowadays everyone is a specialist. We have become a specialized society. These two officers are specialists in civil process. If civil papers are not worded right or served correctly, the Sheriff=s bond can be immersed.
Some discussion followed. Sheriff Erwin explained that when Mac Brittain came on as the Staff Attorney for his department he was the eighth in the state and now there are 20-25. He has had several Sheriffs ask him for the job description for a staff attorney and then some have followed up by restructuring their departments and creating a staff attorney position in the Sheriff=s Department. Sheriff Erwin suggested that once the county legal department is established, that the attorneys have a weekly or semi-weekly meeting together to discuss legal matters to share their expertise.
Chairman Hawkins mentioned briefly the civil liabilities of the County and how they would be considered when establishing the Legal Department. Ms. Beeker is trying to structure the department on paper for presentation to the Board of Commissioners.
Sheriff Erwin felt strongly that the staff attorney for his department also be a sworn law enforcement officer. He stated that the hardest thing for him is personnel issues. He does not want to lose his attorney. He would like to see interaction between all the attorneys in county government.
Sheriff Erwin stated that the department did not send Mac to the Academy, he went on his own to the Academy and graduated from the Academy. He understands what the officers are going through on the street. Dr. Shealy is the department surgeon. He went through the Academy and is now a sworn officer. Mac is now a certified law enforcement instructor and also went through the jail school and is a certified detention officer. He is also a state certified detention instructor. These are not all part of Mac=s job description, these are things he has done on his own.
Mac Brittain was asked how he views his job as staff attorney. He explained that 80-90% of his job is office and 10-20% is in the field.
The Commissioners discussed the need for a tracking system for legal requests, a logging system, to track whether requests are getting handled or not in a timely fashion. This is one way to determine if additional council is needed.
Angela Beeker stated that before a structure is put in place for the County Attorney, ground rules have to be set as well as service levels and priorities. Department Heads will have to be trained also. Some of this will have to be done after the County Attorney is appointed because that person will likely have very definite ideas of how to structure their department.
Chairman Hawkins called a five minute recess.
COUNTY BUILDING DISCUSSION
Chairman Hawkins reminded the Board that they and staff have been looking at some various combination for utilizing the buildings we have, finding a new building and moving departments into a new building, or constructing a new county office building. The Commissioners would like to find the best use of the facilities we have in the most cost efficient method we can afford. The Board discussed this during budget deliberations and since then several people have come forward with ideas on how to consolidate the buildings and/or utilize our current facilities.
David Nicholson stated that the Board has been considering a particular facility for some time now. He has looked at which departments to include in the facility, which ones will fit into the space offered:
Department of Social Services
Department of Public Health
Staff from the Land Development Building:
These departments would share lobby space and reception area. This would free up some of our current county buildings:
them in close proximity to the new jail and would eliminate the need for a new law
enforcement building as planned in the early 90's.
as well as the Nuckolls Building.
The freed up buildings could possibly be sold and returned to the tax rolls.
The building in question is just over 62,000 sq. ft. in a large open building. It would offer a lot of flexibility. It would need heating and air conditioning, some ceiling and floor changes as it is open now. Parking is a big issue both from the standpoint of staff and for customers coming to those departments. Moving DSS to the building in question would free up considerable parking in the courthouse parking lot which would help on days that court is in session.
If the Board is interested in pursuing this building in question, David asked that they look at the facility from the standpoint of working with the affected department heads and working with their boards. David has briefly and very generally spoken to each of the departments who are suggested to move into the building in question and he was not sure whether any of them had shared the information with their boards.
The County could buy or lease the building and property in question. There could be some savings in maintenance that could go to the building in question as we would not have to continue to maintain properties that we might sell or swap. David discussed briefly the monies that could flow to the renovation of the building in question from the Health Department and from the Department of Social Services.
David discussed the need for getting either a local architect or a state architect to lay out the building for us delineating the floor plan and the best entrance into the building for the public as well as for staff. The facility would be utilized for night meetings and that would have to be considered also.
Bill Byrnes has been looking at the building to determine whether it is sound. Bill Blalock has been running the square footage numbers. Selena has been working on figures of monies available through the Health Department and DSS.
David was asked to state again which departments would be affected. He again stated the ones listed above plus:
eventually David would want Bill located in this building, Administration Building.
If the Board is interested in purchasing the facility in question, then the first thing David will look at is whether we might be able to trade. David discussed briefly bank qualified loans, lease purchase, etc. as means of obtaining the facility. He asked the Board for direction on what they were willing to allow him to negotiate with the agents of the building in question.
Commissioner Moyer spoke on behalf of the Facilities Committee stating that this is a good enough possibility to meet our needs that it is worth continuing to be explored. There was some discussion that the Board preferred lease purchasing or purchasing the building in question over leasing it. There was also discussion that it is essential to get access to the back road, Old Spartanburg Hwy.
There was some discussion by the Board that eventually the County Manager would need to add a Project Manager to his staff.
It was the consensus of the Board to allow the Facilities Committee to take this to the next level with the County Manager. There was discussion that the timing was critical for this project.
Chairman Hawkins stated that he felt we could offer a higher level of service to the citizens of this county at a minimal amount of cost.
Chairman Hawkins adjourned the meeting at 4:32 p.m.
Elizabeth W. Corn, Clerk Grady Hawkins, Chairman