by Ivan Foley
Their new budget indicates county commissioners expect to spend more on legal services in 2017 than originally anticipated. Action taken at Monday’s meeting could be an indication why.
A contract for legal services to assist the county commission in ongoing personnel matters was approved at the commission’s meeting on Monday.
As previously reported in The Landmark, an “ongoing personnel matter” that has been publicly referenced by Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, deals with Mary Robinson, who is still listed on the county’s web site as human resources director.
In an originally proposed 2017 budget, a line item of $115,000 had been bookmarked for legal services. But at Monday’s budget hearing, that line item had been increased from $115,000 to $145,000, a hike of $30,000.
The contract is with the law firm of Ensz and Jester, P.C. of Kansas City. The county commission is employing the firm “in ongoing personnel matters not covered under its liability policy with Midwest Public Risk,” according to the contract.
Rate of pay will be $175 per hour for principals in the law firm and $150 per hour for associates. Hourly rate for paralegals will be $75.
Time will be billed in increments of one-tenth of an hour and bills will be submitted monthly with payment due within 30 days of submission of the bill.
The contract also stipulates that “costs, necessary disbursements and reasonable personal and travel expenses incurred by attorneys in advancing client’s cause are to be borne by client and paid by client in addition to attorneys’ fees.”
Robinson, 45, has held the position of HR director since late 2009. Sources inside the administration building in December told The Landmark that Robinson’s last day at work was Friday, Dec. 16. A co-worker of Robinson’s told the newspaper that Robinson had informed co-workers she was leaving to spend time with a relative who is having health problems.
Asked about Robinson’s employment status at that time, Schieber would only say “that is an ongoing personnel matter that I won’t discuss.”
A series of closed meetings has followed, with minutes from some of those meetings making reference to a “proposed settlement agreement and release.” At one closed meeting, commissioners authorized an attorney “to conduct an investigation in anticipation of litigation.”
That meeting was by the previous county commission of Schieber, Beverlee Roper and Duane Soper in December.
The new commissioners, Dagmar Wood and John Elliott, have also been a part of multiple closed meetings after taking office on Jan. 1, with Robinson’s status believed to be the topic in most of those closed sessions.
In a related move, the county commission recently put out a request for proposals to outsource its human resources services. Proposals are due to the county on Feb. 3. Vendor presentations will be heard on Feb. 10 and possible selection of a preferred vendor on Feb. 20.
Robinson’s 2016 salary as HR director was $63,248. An HR payroll specialist in her office has an annual salary of $30,300.
Robinson’s time as HR director has been dotted with multiple controversies, the most serious being her arrest on a DWI charge in June of 2014. She was originally charged with a felony as a persistent DWI offender after court documents indicated this was her fourth DWI arrest. Court documents indicated Robinson had three alcohol-related convictions in the state of New York under her previous last name of Dolan.
If she had been convicted of the felony, punishment could have been up to four years in prison. But at trial in December of 2014, a special prosecutor from Cass County lowered the charge to a misdemeanor, saying prosecutors could not acquire the necessary certified documentation from the state of New York on Robinson’s previous alcohol-related offenses. She was placed on probation for two years.