The Lane Board of County Commissioners had scheduled a vote to appoint Senior Assistant County Counsel Stephen Dingle as the new county counsel at their Jan. 8 meeting, but postponed the issue of Dingle’s contract, voting instead on another part of the agenda item — to re-create the Office of Lane County Legal Counsel as a separate county department.
Alex Gardner, the Lane County district attorney, has been simultaneously serving as the acting county counsel, and when the decision was made to appoint him in November 2011, the county counsel’s office was added to the DA’s office and called the Civil Division.
The County Commission voted to transfer control of the county counsel’s office back to the board’s control. “I’m glad the board transferred back the function,” Sorenson said. He and former fellow progressive commissioner Rob Handy had previously voted against transferring the functions of the office out of board control. Pat Farr now replaces Handy on the board’s North Eugene seat.
Gardner said the 5-0 vote shows that the county counsel “is working better than ever before.”
Sorenson was dubious over the original agenda item that called for appointing Dingle as the county’s attorney without a full search. “We should be interviewing people that want to be the legal counsel; there’s a certain degree of fairness, you advertise and interview. You don’t just appoint someone,” he said.
Sorenson had also expressed concerns when Gardner was appointed acting county counsel in November 2011 because, he said at the time, he had concerns over possible conflicts of interest. For example if the county legal department were to turn down a public records request, the appeal goes to the DA’s office.
Gardner said via email that he had “agreed to accept the extra work without additional compensation, so I could apply the resulting savings to our looming budget deficit.” He said he was stepping down because the year he agreed to serve was up and that before taking on the functions of the county counsel he ran “several potentially challenging scenarios” by the Oregon attorney general’s office. He cited several other, smaller, Oregon counties that had dual DA/county counsels.
At the same meeting the board voted that Sid Leiken would be chair for a second year and Jay Bozievich to serve a second year as vice chair. Sorenson voted against Bozievich.