As news spread about the Newton Board of Commissioners (BOC) offering a contract to Ms. Megan Martin to become our county’s in-house, salaried attorney, many of us said it’s about time. This action has been in the works for some time and would save taxpayers a lot of money.
Ms. Martin has been working as county attorney under a contract with the Jarrard and Davis Law Firm for the last six years. Her performance has been outstanding as she helped extract the county from various legal entanglements associated with the Bear Creek Project and the county landfill. She also helped develop legislation for our new form of government and has successfully defended the county from the outrageous salary claims of the Chairman and Probate Judge.
So it was no surprise that Martin was selected as the most experienced and best qualified person to become our in-house county attorney. The surprise is that District Commissioners Mason, Henderson and Sanders refused to offer her a legitimate contract, renewable on a yearly basis. Instead, they voted to offer her a six-month contract that would be reviewed at the end of that time. Of course, a six-month contract is a sham offer for an experienced attorney who has been serving in this very position for the last six years and who would have to leave her current employer to take the job. Ms. Martin’s competency is well established so there is no valid reason for a short term contract to further evaluate her performance.
It seems unlikely that Ms. Martin will accept such a shaky offer of employment. It’s a slap in the face of someone so well regarded among those who practice government law. And, after the way Martin has been treated, it will be hard to find a competent attorney who wants to work for such a dysfunctional county commission.
So, how is the public to understand this fiasco? Apparently, the three BOC members nixed a genuine contract proposed by Commissioner Edwards so they can eventually hire someone else not in the current applicant pool. Their motives are certainly questionable given the growing power struggle among BOC members. What are the intentions of Sanders, Henderson and Mason? What kind of attorney are they looking for? Surely they understand the critical nature of this position and will not try to hire someone who cannot provide the best possible legal services for the county. Hopefully, they also understand that their delaying tactics are costing taxpayers more money.
If experience and competency are the primary requirements, as they should be, Ms. Martin is the best candidate available and should be offered a legitimate contract with annual evaluations. There will not be any other applicants that can match her credentials. Citizens should demand that the BOC move forward with offering Ms. Martin a good faith employment contract and to quit playing political games with this important decision.