Several Jefferson County residents on Monday are expected to protest a decision by county commissioners to transfer $10,000 from the county attorney's budget to help pay for the county counselor.
Residents are upset because the counselor's office is the Oskaloosa law firm Hayes and Hayes. It is the firm of Jefferson County Attorney Michael Hayes, who was ousted in the August primary. His wife, Jan Hayes, is the county counselor, and Michael Hayes serves as an assistant county counselor in addition to being county attorney.
"I think the commissioners don't have a clue as to how many people are upset as to what they've done and how it looks," said Janet Wise, who owns an Oskaloosa liquor store.
Perry attorney Caleb Stegall defeated Hayes in the election and will take office as county attorney in January because Stegall faces no opposition in the Nov. 4 election. He has also asked commissioners to keep the office's funding at its 2008 level - $242,306 - instead of the proposed $213,074.
A commissioner said the board could have handled the situation better for the public's perception, but he said the move was not improper and not meant to undermine the county attorney's office.
"It was taken wrong. And I'm not saying it doesn't look funny, but that was not the intent at all," Commissioner Don Edmonds said.
County commissioners will have their 2009 budget hearing at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the Jefferson County Courthouse in Oskaloosa.
On Sept. 8, commissioners had an executive session with Jan and Mike Hayes to discuss nonelected personnel, according to the meeting minutes. After they emerged, Edmonds and Commissioners David Christy and Francis Grollmes voted for the $10,000 transfer from the assistant county attorney's salary to the counselor salary for 2009.
But Edmonds said the decision had been agreed to weeks earlier, not during the closed session.
Edmonds said it was a necessary budget move because the commission was asking Jan Hayes to take on more responsibility as the county counselor, including attending every county planning and zoning board meeting. She has also served as an assistant county attorney during her husband's tenure.
"Mike had absolutely nothing to do with it. He was probably as shocked as Caleb was," Edmonds said.
It is common in counties with a small population for county attorneys to be elected, serve part-time and also work in private practice. The county counselor is not elected and provides commissioners with legal advice, including in civil matters.
Stegall addressed commissioners at a later meeting and asked them to keep the county attorney's office budget equal to 2008. Many county departments kept their budgets flat or lost funding in the proposed 2009 budget because commissioners wanted to keep the mill levy increase below 1 mill, Edmonds said.
During the primary election campaign, Stegall had criticized the job Hayes did as prosecutor, but he said this week that as county attorney he could work with the county counselor.
"It wasn't my intent to be controversial, but we had a serious issue here that in my view really needed and still needs to be addressed," Stegall said.
Commissioners had said at a September meeting that Hayes kept them from cutting more county attorney funding, according to published reports.
A message left for Michael Hayes was not returned Friday, and calls to the Hayes and Hayes law office were not answered.
Jerry White, who serves on the board of directors for Lakeside Village east of Perry Lake, said many voters were unhappy because after losing the election, Michael Hayes could still possibly serve the commission as an assistant county counselor. He also said Stegall should have the same funding opportunity to do the job as criminal prosecutor.
"We shouldn't shoot him in the foot before he starts," White said.
Edmonds, the commissioner, said he welcomed the opportunity to explain the commission's decision at the hearing.
White and Wise, who also plans to attend the hearing, said they expected it to be a tough sell for commissioners.
"That would be the only thing - if they reversed what they did," Wise said.