Marquette County Board seeking civil counsel applicants

Chairman Gerald Corkin, left, and commissioners Karen Alholm, Bill Nordeen and Stephen Adamini listen to a discussion regarding the county's civil counsel position. Civil Counsel Steven Pence submitted a letter to the commission in August, asking for a three-year contract extension. The motion failed at the board's regular meeting on Nov. 21 as three commissioners suggested to seek out proposals for the position. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — Marquette County Civil Counsel Steven Pence told the county board Tuesday that he would stay until commissioners found competent help to fill his current position.

In August, Pence presented a letter to the board requesting a three-year contract extension, since his contract expires at midnight on Dec. 31. Pence said he would keep his annual payment at the same level as 2017 of $145,000 for next year, with $2,500 increases for fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

At the Nov. 21 Marquette County Board meeting, Pence’s contract request failed by a split vote, with opposing commissioners questioning the length and sum of the contract, as well as the transparency of the hire. The commission passed a motion to seek bids for the position, though Pence can still be rehired.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Chairman Gerald Corkin presented civil counsel bids received in 2015, the year Pence was hired. Pence’s bid was the second lowest.

“Last week was a difficult week for me because I felt that two of my commissioners, one of them who said he was a friend of mine, seriously misrepresented things,” Pence said. “Last week it was made to seem as if it was a process where I was the ultimate good ol’ boy and maybe there wasn’t even a vote on it. I thought the comments (from) the board members were very gracious toward me in terms of competence, integrity and hard work. I’m not complaining if this board wanted to bid this out, price shop and get a lower price. That’s not painful at all. But when the justification for doing so is based on something that’s not true — (that) is painful.”

Pence stated he was upset with half of the commissioners who waited until the last minute to say something about his contract. He also added the board knew the process was fair.

“I became a lawyer to help people. I continue to help people, and I kept my practice, because I knew something like this could happen. I knew I could lose this job whether I deserved it or not. So I won’t bid on this job and I’m not asking you to change your vote. I am willing to stay over until you find competent help. It’s wrong what you did to me — to wait until the end of the year. What if I really did need this job and you took it away from me at Christmas? Did any of you think of that?”

Vice Chairman Joe Derocha said the only problems he has with the contract is its length and the amount Administrator Scott Erbisch estimated it would be to hire another civil counsel. He said if it was a one-year contract instead of three, he would have voted on it.

Commissioners Bill Nordeen and Stephen Adamini stated they felt the public deserved more transparency in the process.

“This is a job that should be bid out, there’s no doubt about it,” Nordeen said.

Adamini added that he more than likely would vote for Pence.

“My position on this was never we have to get somebody else besides Steve Pence as our civil counsel,” Adamini said. “I’m not prepared to hire anybody else as civil counsel if they’re below your bid, unless I’m convinced they have the same degree of a proven record like (Pence has) and I doubt many, if any, in the county will be able to match (his) proposal.”

Corkin and Commissioners Karen Alholm and Johnny DePetro commended Pence, each stating they were impressed with the professionalism he’s conveyed over the years as civil counsel.

“I want to commend Steve Pence and his staff for having served as our county legal counsel,” DePetro said. “I commend Steve for his remarkable performance, professional work ethic, attitude, transparency to the county board of commissioners to all issues. You still got my support. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve thought you’ve done an outstanding job. Negotiations are coming together much better.”

Alholm added that the situation reminded her of an old adage.

“If it’s not broken don’t fix it,” she said. “We have an excellent civil counsel and I think we’ve approached this very wrong to get us to this position right now.”

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.