County board attorney post might see turnover in ’08|[11/27/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Despite change in only one seat on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, another job may change when new terms begin Jan. 1.

Much speculation centers on Paul Winfield, selected board attorney on a 3-2 vote in January 2005, as one of four key employees usually reviewed and elected by board vote annually.

“I would welcome another year on board,” Winfield said, adding his three years with Warren County has been “an education.”

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Supporting Winfield were then-District 2 Supervisor Michael Mayfield, now a city official, District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon and District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders, who will be replaced in January by former Supervisor Bill Lauderdale Jr. The returning delegate, along with District 1 Supervisor David McDonald and District 5 Supervisor Richard George, had strongly backed 13 years of service by former board attorney Randy Sherard.

“In my point of view, they’ve all been doing a pretty good job,” said District 2 Supervisor William Banks, who followed Mayfield on the board and was re-elected handily, including Winfield along with County Administrator John Smith, County Engineer John McKee and Road Manager Richard Winans.

McDonald declined to make a prediction. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with board attorney,” he said, adding it is the most likely to change.

Termed a “lame-duck period” by Smith, the current environs of supervisors’ offices have been relatively calm, with issues such as financing a new jail, funding for recreation and how to proceed with land-use recommendations likely to remain off the table until the new year.

As board president, George will likely surrender the gavel in a month under the annual rotation the board follows. He also predicted most of the appointive jobs will continue. “I won’t say everybody, but by and large, the positions won’t change,” George said.

Invoices show the firm of Winfield & Moran collecting $69,292.29 during fiscal year 2006-07, usually billed monthly. Besides the tangled legal battle between the county and landowners involving the use of Paw Paw Road, Winfield’s workload has consisted of legal items routine to county government.

Winfield, 34, is also attorney for the City of Port Gibson. Changes came there, too, with that city having elected its first new mayor in eight years. He said the board is right to deliberate on all four appointments, indicating quality of performance should be measured.

The key issue at the time of Winfield’s initial election in 2005 was how to pay a board attorney. Flanders insisted the county should follow a state law supported by an attorney general’s opinion saying boards could hire full-time attorneys, but if they did, they would be paid a supervisor’s salary, currently $44,812 a year. Sherard was paid a retainer and then at an hourly rate. His total compensation was more than a supervisors’ pay at the time, but far below what many board attorneys make statewide. Flanders, who had voted to retain Sherard during his first year in office, changed the next year, but the compensation method remained the same with Winfield.

Monday, Sherard said he would consider returning to the board if asked. While complementing Winfield’s energy for the job, Sherard said he would bring his years of experience to the job if rehired.

“It takes a special person to do that job,” Sherard said. “They need some direction.”

Flanders, who lost a new term by just 43 votes out of more than 2,400 cast in the Nov. 6 general election, has left his options open, including a return to teaching. That’s what he was doing when he made his first try for public office and unseated the 16-year incumbent.

As for the stability of his appointment as administrator, Smith said he feels confident. He’s the architect of the county’s $15.2 million spending plan that keeps tax rates level and includes more employee raises.

Lauderdale has not yet left his post as an auditor with the Mississippi State Tax Commission in Jackson.

Reached last week, Lauderdale said he had begun to talk to various candidates for appointments — including an expected move on the vacant District 4 seat on the Vicksburg Bridge Commission.

“I’m still talking with different people and getting feedback on it,” Lauderdale said. “I’ll make the best decision for District 4.”

As for incoming 9th Circuit Court District Attorney Ricky Smith, changes in personnel might also be around the corner.

Smith, 48, has become more open to overhauling the district attorney’s office in the weeks since his victory over 16-year incumbent Gil Martin.

“I’ve had contact with the DA’s office,” Smith said, adding he’ll be taking applications for positions on the six-member staff.

“I’m opening up every office for resumes. It’s an open invitation,” Smith said, adding current employees will be afforded a chance to apply.

“Motivation and desire” were key attributes in any future replacement of the six-member staff, which include assistant district attorneys John Bullard and Mike Bonner.