The Forsyth County commission may revisit the appointment of a hearing officer for the civil service board at a meeting Thursday night.
Cost and conflict of interest have surfaced as two points of discussion for the commission as it weighs whether to reappoint longtime hearing officer Dana Miles at his rate of $260 per hour.
The commission approved reappointing the local lawyer in a non-binding vote during a Feb. 8 work session. It has since postponed the final vote, which was first set for Feb. 17.
Commissioner Todd Levent, who suggested the delay, said the extra weeks gave the commission some time to review the matter.
Levent has expressed concern about hiring somebody without a bid process. He has also noted a possible conflict with one of Miles’ other roles, as the attorney for the city of Cumming.
“I’m not sure if he should be representing the county since he represents the city, being that we have been in litigation with the city in the past,” Levent said.
Cumming and Forsyth sparred in 2007 and ‘08 over a continuation of the 1-cent sales tax, with the city eventually receiving $12.5 million from the county for an aquatic center and infrastructure projects.
The civil service board reviews appeals of disciplinary measures or firings of qualifying county employees.
Commission Chairman Brian Tam said he doesn’t see a conflict of interest with Miles’ civil service role.
“These hearings involve the county and county employees, not city employees,” he said.
Tam added that it’s up to the attorney to recuse himself if he perceives a potential conflict of interest.
Commissioners seem to have mixed opinions on whether the $260 rate for Miles, who has served as hearing officer for about a decade, was the best option.
Miles could not be reached for comment. In 2010, he received a total of $29,100 for his services to the county.
Tam pointed to the civil service board’s operations under Miles’ direction.
“We’ve never had one of these hearings go south, where we faced further litigation,” Tam said. “That would be more expensive than Dana Miles’ rate.”
Commissioner Jim Boff contends the price tag, which reflects Miles’ reduced rate for government, sounds high. Commissioner Patrick Bell disagrees.
“I don’t see it as high,” Bell said. “I know some mediators that are [charging] $250.”
Commissioner Pete Amos, who is out of town and will not be able to attend tonight’s meeting, has also said the rate is fair.
In comparison, Forsyth’s attorney receive $175 per hour for general work and litigation and $125 per hour for magistrate matters (code enforcement), according to County Attorney Ken Jarrard.
Also by comparison, the usual hearing officer for the county’s board of ethics received $175 per hour up until September, according to county figures.
The rate then rose to $200 per hour after the hearing officer’s law firm merged with another.
An alternate officer for an ethics case last year charged $225 per hour.
Boff has suggested the county look at other pricing options, including not hiring an attorney for the job, since the ordinance does not require one.
Jarrard said the civil service board, which requested Miles’ appointment be annual, is “very comfortable” with Miles’ knowledge and abilities.
The commission has typically appointed one person as hearing officer for a full year, Jarrard said, though the county-specific state law calls for an appointment per hearing.
He said a recent review of some discrepancies between the county-specific state law and the civil service handbook has prompted the commission to consider changes, including making the appointment annual.