Interim Hillsborough attorney submits compromise budget cut proposal
Hillsborough commissioner Al Higginbotham slammed the county attorney's office last week for failing to submit a slimmer spending plan for fiscal year 2012 more in keeping with cutbacks elsewhere.
His call for steeper cuts touched off scuttlebutt that Higginbotham wants to farm work in the office to politically connected firms that make generous campaign contributions. Higginbotham said that is not his intent and there were no obvious signs in commissioners' calendars that any private firms are working that angle, though that doesn't preclude phone or other conversations not captured on their schedules.
Higginbotham was armed with an analysis former County Attorney Renee Lee commissioned before getting dismissed last month. The report, prepared by a group fronted by former County Attorney Fred Karl, suggested that the office ranks could be thinned from 66 employees to 53 with little difficulty, saving up to $2.5 million.
The Commission Chairman gave Interim County Attorney Don Odom until Thursday to come up with more cuts. Odom issued his response Wednesday. It suggests eliminating three of the 37 attorney positions in the office by cutting two senior attorneys and one low-ranking assistant county attorney. He would also leave a paralegal post unfilled.
Odom suggests, through cross-training, he can send fewer attorneys to government and staff meetings, lowering the number of billable hours. Further, he suggests his office could hire outside legal counsel less, not more.
The county attorney's office has a budget of $400,000 for hiring outside attorneys, the report says. These are typically specialists, such as those hired for eminent domain work, or lawyers the county hires when its own legal shop has a conflict. That has been the case for much of last year when the county had to hire outside lawyers to represent its interests in investigating allegations against Lee and former County Administrator Pat Bean.
Odom's report indicates that, despite its budget, his office has only spent just under $73,000 on outside legal help during the current year and he indicates he believes he can reduce that figure further.
His report does not provide an overall estimate for how much it would save in spending.