Nelson salary suit goes before judge

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 4, 2003

A Mower County judge heard both sides’ arguments in a pay dispute between Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson and the county Monday.

Bob Goldman, Nelson’s attorney, asserted the county board Dec. 3 set Nelson’s salary for this year at $72,063.65 without considering the responsibilities and duties of Nelson’s office, and his experience, qualifications and performance.

The 3-percent raise was a cost-of-living adjustment and was applied to all other county elected officials except Sheriff Mark Harig and Recorder Kelly Callahan, who were elected for the first time last year.

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&uot;The only thing discussed was, ‘let’s treat all the elected officials equal,’&uot; Goldman said. He cited case law that supports the grounds of the petition, and said, &uot;Do your jobs, commissioners.&uot;

Nelson submitted his salary request of $86,000 to the county administration in late November. The board discussed it in a workshop on Dec. 2, and made the determination the following day. Nelson was absent from both meetings.

&uot;I don’t think they used the information I provided,&uot; Nelson said. &uot;And, I had no opportunities to talk about it or provide further information.&uot;

Nelson has filed a comparison, showing salaries paid in other counties with similar populations, as evidence that he is underpaid. He also contended that the elected officials of Freeborn County do not have a step increase beside the cost-of-living adjustment, while other county employees do. The board decided to give the same 3-percent cost-of-living increase to the other employees.

But Scott Lepak, the county’s labor attorney, said such data can be an inappropriate index. He pointed out that Nelson’s salary ranks in the middle in the sate: 47 county attorneys are paid more, 31 less and eight are unknown. Lepak also noted that Freeborn County’s tax levy is significantly lower than the average of counties that Nelson cited for comparison.

Nelson also emphasized that his workload has significantly increased because of the proposed new courthouse project, for which he has conducted legal research and administered various contracts. &uot;All of the commissioners are relatively new on the board, so is the county administrator,&uot; Nelson said. &uot;I’ve been providing a lot more advice to the board than any other officials.&uot;

But, referring to the anticipated negative impact of the state budget shortfall on the county’s finances, Lepak rebuffed, &uot;2003 salary setting is particularly important to the county commissioners. They did their duties and responsibilities in setting the salary.&uot;

The hearing finished Monday, and the judge will make a ruling after he has reviewed materials submitted by the attorneys of both sides.