Vacancy Deadlines Looming

Published 4:06 pm Thursday, March 1, 2012

CUMBERLAND – The County's Supervisors have held five closed session meetings for discussions related to county administrator applicants and conducted two closed session meetings to conduct interviews since the end of January and still the Board as a whole has not been able to agree and come to a decision and now time is running out to secure legal counsel.

Cumberland's current County Administrator Judy Ownby's retirement officially begins on March 31, the same day as the interim agreement ends with Estes & Associates, the firm that provides legal services to Cumberland County. The days left on the calendar to fill these fast-approaching vacancies are quickly being marked off, even if it is leap year.

According to Supervisor Bill Osl, District One, who is the only returning member to the Board, the Supervisors started with about 40 applicants for the county administrator position and then narrowed those down and conducted three interviews.

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When asked about negotiating and deliberations that have taken place, Osl responded, “We're still deliberating on them. There's a fair amount of review, sharing and different and…various background checks and references we have to go through.”

Concerning the staff county attorney position, the cut-off date, as advertised, to receive resumes and a county application from those applying to the staff county attorney position was February 22.

According to Ms. Ownby on Tuesday afternoon, there were five applications received for the staff county attorney position by the cut-off date and after a closed session on Monday evening (February 27) she was notified that the Board wanted to interview three of those applicants.

“The Board decided to discuss in closed session on Monday (March 5) what kind of offer they can make to a county administrator,” Ms. Ownby told The Herald. “That will be a kind of a negotiation kind of thing to discuss what they would like to offer. Now, I don't know when they plan to make an offer to someone or to whom, then they plan to interview three applicants for the county attorney position…”

Previously, on Monday evening, after conducting a joint work session with the Planning Commission and before going into that closed session, Board of Supervisors Chairman David Meinhard, District Four, made a motion to amend the Board's agenda for the evening, which would have added an action item after returning from closed session.

The Board was due to enter into closed session to consider county administrator applicants and county attorney applicants.

Chairman Meinhard's motion was to offer a contract to a county administrator and county attorney.

After the motion was made, Ms. Ownby suggested to the Board that the meeting had not been called with the intent to take any action.

And so Meinhard just proposed to enter into closed session without taking action on his motion.

When contacted by The Herald on Tuesday morning Meinhard said, “What I was making, a motion, was to amend the agenda so that with the closed session and the completion of the closed session, we would have been able to take that action but that didn't happen…It didn't matter which way it went, whether it was for an attorney and for an administrator or for an administrator/attorney combined.”

The Need For A County Attorney

In January, at the newly- elected Board's first meeting, many motions were made during that public meeting concerning legal services provided to Cumberland by Estes & Associates but the end result was the termination of legal services with the current firm with the understanding that Cumberland's attorney, Howard Estes, would continue to temporarily assist until projects and work on his desk were smoothly transitioned to a new paid county attorney-not a hired firm.

Although the majority of the County's Supervisors voted in favor of the decision, there was much discussion during that January meeting.

At one point during that meeting, Supervisor Kevin Ingle, District Three said, “I'd like to make a motion that Mr. Estes be with Cumberland County during the process of our search for the new type of legal representation that we're searching for through the end of March so that current business can be completed and to make sure that we've got the type of representation that we are searching for.”

He later added, “I want my motion to reflect 'reinstate' Mr. Estes until March 31 to complete the business that is at-hand.”

The motion to reinstate Estes after he was previously terminated by an earlier motion during the same meeting passed: Supervisors Ingle, Bill Osl, and Parker Wheeler voted in favor of the transition motion, Supervisor Banks voted in opposition and Chairman David Meinhard abstained.

During that same meeting before moving on to other business, there was also one additional motion. Chairman Meinhard had earlier made a motion to initiate the process of advertising for a new county attorney with the intent to have someone hired by April 1. That motion also included the cut-off date of March 1. The motion was not for legal services with a hired firm but for a staff county attorney.

“As an employee of the County,” added Meinhard during that meeting.

That motion carried on a three- to-two vote. Chairman Meinhard and Supervisors Banks and Ingle voted in favor. Supervisors Osl and Wheeler voted in opposition.

Recently, during the Board's first budget work session on February 7, Supervisors gave authorization to Ms. Ownby to run an advertisement seeking a staff county attorney.

The advertisement stated that Cumberland is “seeking a staff county attorney to serve as the principal legal advisory to the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator. This position supervises the legal affairs of the County, including legal services to the Cumberland County Planning Commission, Cumberland County Industrial Development Authority, and County offices.

“Experience in local government representation and experience or demonstrated competency in conducting civil litigation and knowledge of municipal, state, and federal law affecting local government, of judicial procedures, rules of evidence, and methods of legal research is preferred…”

The advertisement goes on to state that applicants needed to, “Submit resume and County application form to Judy Ownby, County Administrator, via email…by 4:30 p.m. February 22, 2012.”

When asked about the change in the cut-off date from what was originally decided by the Board during the public meeting in January, Ms. Ownby offered, “I don't know if they forgot that they had set a date and we weren't looking at minutes when they decided to advertise an earlier cut-off date for applicants, that could be the case that they just didn't recall that they had set March 1…”

Upcoming Meeting Schedule

The Board has called special meetings for four days next week.

The meetings will be held in the Cumberland County Administration conference room and each meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

The first meeting is on March 5 and the Board will meet to conduct a budget work session and will enter into closed session under VA Code Section 2.2-3711 (A-1) personnel to consider applicants for County Administrator; and in open session to consider offering a contract for County Administrator and County Attorney, according to the public notice.

The Board will also meet on March 6, March 7, and March 8 to conduct a budget work session and will enter into closed session under VA Code Section 2.2-3711 (A-1) personnel to consider applicants for County Administrator; and interview applicants for County Attorney; and in open session to consider offering a contract for County Administrator and County Attorney.

When asked about the meetings, Osl noted that budget discussions would be conducted during the first meeting on March 5 and additional activity related to the budget might not be necessary during the additional three meetings.

“We've advertised it that way to just, again, allow for flexibility,” said Osl. “What we planned on doing is during the first meeting is to meet with Ms. (Jill) Matthews (Assistant County Administrator of Finance) so that we could go over the budget stuff and give her a chance to do whatever work she needs to do-and if she needs to bring anything back to us so that we have meetings to allow for us to do further review of that if necessary.”

According to information received, the language “and in open session to consider offering a contract for County Administrator and County Attorney” in the meeting notice for each meeting date was at the request of a Board member.