George says litigation guided attorney choice|[01/08/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pending lawsuits against Warren County officials kept the new board of supervisors from reverting to its old attorney, board President Richard George said Monday.

Paul Winfield was retained on a 5-0 vote despite sweating out the supervisors’ decision to rehire him as one of the four will-and-pleasure appointments supervisors make annually.

“I’m happy yet humble,” Winfield said after the supervisors’ first meeting of 2008. “Warren County has been good to me and my legal practice.”

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Former board attorney Randy Sherard expressed an interest in returning to the position he held for 13 years — hopes that were buoyed by the election of Bill Lauderdale in District 4, who bounced from office Carl Flanders, who two years ago voted with District 2 Supervisor William Banks and District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon to hire Winfield instead of Sherard. In previous terms, Lauderdale had supported Sherard.

“All I can say is I’m disappointed,” Sherard said when reached Monday.

An explosion of litigation arose in 2006 and spread to three courts, exposing the county to millions in damages.

Kindling the suits in federal, circuit and chancery courts was a dispute between two landowner groups, Paw Paw Island Land Company and Issaquena and Warren County Land Company. The county became involved in saying Paw Paw Road, a gravel path off Mississippi 465 and involved in the dispute, was a public road and for insisting the IWCLC owners seek required permission for building under the county’s subdivision ordinance.

“We have some serious litigation with our ordinances,” George said. “We have basic, elementary ordinances and it’s very important we enforce them and he (Winfield) has been heavily involved.”

The gist of the accusations against all five supervisors and other officials is that they used their official positions to team with Paw Paw Island Land Company to stop IWCLC’s development. The most serious charges, including civil racketeering, were in the federal suit. The county has been represented by attorney Ken Rector in that case and most of the allegations, including civil racketeering, have been dismissed.

Pending are the circuit court case in which Winfield and Rector represent the supervisors as plaintiffs seeking to enforce the subdivision and flood-plain ordinances and a chancery case in which the two represent the county as defendants.

Winfield also will continue as city attorney for Port Gibson, where he was retained by the incoming administration of Mayor-elect Fred Reeves.

Supervisors pay retainer and per-hour fees to board attorneys for legal work and to their engineering firm, ABMB Engineers Inc., for work pertaining to street paving and infrastructure needs.

How to pay attorneys has been a lingering issue. After supporting Sherard initially, Flanders changed his vote when fellow board members declined to follow a state law and attorney general’s opinion saying board attorneys may be hired full time and are to be paid the same salary as a supervisor, which would be $44,812 a year in Warren County.

Sherard and Winfield have been paid hourly. Invoices show Winfield’s firm collecting $69,292.29 during fiscal year 2006-07, usually billed monthly. During 2005-06, Winfield’s fees totaled $62,097.

Sherard was paid $53,255 in his most recent year serving the board as its attorney.

In other appointments, supervisors kept County Administrator John Smith, County Engineer John McKee and Road Manager Richard Winans in their respective positions. Another appointed position, that of emergency management director, was not addressed during Monday’s board meeting.

In 2006, supervisors appointed Gwen Coleman to that post.