Negative public reaction has prompted the Davis County Commission to withdraw a proposal to raise the county attorney's pay by $14,000 in return for having him give up his outside legal practice.
The criticisms were voiced in a public hearing last week on the proposal, which would have boosted County Attorney Mel Wilson's salary from $44,000 to $58,000. In return, Wilson would have given up his private legal practice, which he said brought him about $20,000 last year.In Monday's commission meeting, commissioners William Peters and Gayle Stevenson said they appreciated the information and opinions generated during the public hearing.
Commissioner Harold Tippetts said he also found the hearing informative but criticized some news media for editorializing against the raise without looking into the background of the proposal.
While not giving the raise will initially save the county $14,000, Tippetts said, it may result in having to add another full-time deputy county attorney to the staff to handle the office's rising caseload, which will cost $40,000 a year.
Critics of the salary increase included Dub Lawrence and Howard Stoddard, both running for commission seats this fall, and tax rollback proponent Elmer Barlow.
As an elected official, the county attorney retains the option of maintaining a private law practice. The job of county attorney is mainly administrative, Wilson said, and there is little potential for conflict of interest if the private practice is limited to civil work such as divorces and probate.
Wilson said after Monday's meeting he plans to keep his private law practice active for now and will examine some options for handling his office's caseload, ranging from raising the salary issue again later to adding a part-time or full-time deputy.
Wilson said adding a deputy could have to be addressed before the end of the year. He prefers hiring a full-time rather than part-time deputy because there is less chance of errors cropping up in the handling of cases, and the county is emphasizing hiring and keeping career prosecutors.
Tippetts said the county used to pay deputy attorneys small salaries, around $20,000 a year, and found itself acting as a training ground for other counties. Attorneys would hire on at the low pay, gain experience, and then jump to another, higher-paying job in another county, he said.
"When I ran for county attorney two years ago, I was clear in my campaign that I would keep my private legal practice," Wilson said Monday. "But now I've done a turnaround and believe the county attorney should devote full time to the job.
"It's happening in other counties around the state. It's the wave of the future," Wilson said.