County Mayor Weston Wamp stands at the podium behind where County Attorney Rheubin Taylor is sitting
County Commission members on Wednesday hit new County Mayor Weston Wamp for "unilateral" action in firing longtime County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.
After meeting with a private attorney, the commissioners passed a resolution setting up a civil service system for county employees.
Another resolution blocks any firing of county employees (including attorney Taylor) until the new civil service program is set up.
Still another resolution unanimously passed says attorney Taylor would continue as county attorney "with no lapse" under his 2021 contract.
Also passed was a resolution "to protect the integrity of the county attorney office." It says no item could be removed from the county attorney office by any other county employee.
Commissioners said the county attorney works for both the county mayor and the commission and both should have been involved in any decision to terminate him.
At the suggestion of Chairman Chip Baker, the commission agreed to hire outside counsel. John Konvalinka will represent the panel for a $10,000 fee.
Commissioners were to have an immediate session with the local lawyer.
County Attorney Taylor has continued to work at the courthouse and he was present for Wednesday's meeting despite getting an ultimatum from Mr. Wamp.
Chairman Baker said he was surprised to learn of the Wamp action, saying, "The county attorney works for the commission as much as he does the county mayor."
He said, "The lack of transparency in taking this action is troubling."
The chairman said, "I have always appreciated the partnership we have had with the mayor. Partnership is the key word."
Commissioner Steve Highlander said, "We made an agreement with the county attorney. I think we need to honor our agreements."
The prior County Commission approved a four-year contract for attorney Taylor that has not yet expired. County Mayor Wamp told commissioners that it is not legal for such a contract to extend over to the next administration.
Vice Chairman Joe Graham said, "I was always told that the County Commission has responsibility for half the county attorney. We've just been given the side of the group that's doing the firing."
Commissioner Jeff Eversole said, "It's a 50/50 split between the county mayor and commission (on county attorney oversight)." He said, "We learn about this through a news release and an email. That's not transparency."
He added, "When we see more about this in the media than we are told about it, are we being good stewards? Are we treating people responsibly? This is not good government. It is not being a good citizen."
Commissioner David Sharpe said, "I was never contacted about this - ever."
He said, "Many in county government feel that the workplace has become hostile. County business should continue uninterrupted and professionally."
Commissioner Graham said many county employees "are shaking in their boots. I am as well."
Commissioner Lee Helton, saying the county mayor acted unilaterally, said, "It just doesn't leave a good taste in your mouth. It's completely inappropriate for someone to come and fire our attorney."
Claire McVay, Wamp chief of staff, said attorney Taylor was the only one the office had dismissed and that three assistant county attorneys remained.
The county has long had civil service protection for sheriff employees.