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County's first on-staff attorney hired
Dawson smallest county with internal representation
FB DCN Government County

Following a 3-1 vote by commissioners last week, Monroe Lynn Frey III was appointed the county's new in-house legal representation in a move that replaces the board's longtime contracted attorney Joey Homans.

The county entered a special called meeting Thursday morning to discuss the information they had collected in the two weeks since announcing the two finalists for the position.

During the board's regular voting session, District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett made a motion to appoint Frey the new in-house attorney, and District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix seconded the motion.

The motion passed 3-1 with District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines voting against.

According to Frey's resume, he has more than 35 years of experience in civil practice. He received a bachelor's degree in religion at Emory University in 1977 and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Georgia in 1980.

In addition to previously working for a law firm in Brunswick, Frey was the city attorney there from 1998 to 2011.

Frey left the city in 2011, "when the city commission decided to outsource its legal services... in an effort to cope with a dwindling revenue stream," according to his resume.

Since leaving the city commission, Frey has worked in a private civil practice.

Frey was offered a conditional offer of employment Friday, which he accepted early that afternoon.

He officially started on Monday, though his salary has yet to be approved by the board in open meeting, and as of Tuesday afternoon had not returned a signed copy of the offer.

District 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix said that she voted for Frey because he is prompt, had outstanding references and has a lot of experience with zoning issues, something the county will need assistance with in the future.

Both Fausett and District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby declined to comment on the offer.

The decision to hire Frey came after a month and a half of research and interviews by the board following their decision to consider the switch to internal legal representation at their Dec.8 work session.

Commissioners Hamby, Fausett and Nix have maintained their stance that the decision is a result of attempts to lessen the amount of money the county pays in legal fees.

The county spent $180,316.19 on legal services in 2016.The amount of money that the county currently has budgeted for legal services in 2017 is over $232,000.

Once approved, Frey's salary will be $85,000, with an increase to $90,000 after passing a six-month probationary period.

Chairman Billy Thurmond said there have been no discussions yet on a paralegal or secretary, though Frey's transition plan states that he wishes to work with human resources to prepare a job description and recruit a secretary as soon as it can be approved. The salary for that position would be an additional expense.

The county already has a furnished office and computer equipment available for Frey to use.
Thurmond said that he supports the decisions that are made by the majority of the board, including the county attorney appointment.

"I support the majority in what they want to do," he said. "[Frey] has a lot of experience, and coming from a bigger city of 15,000 or more people, he's been involved in similar things to what the county is going through now, like development and labor issues. He had the most experience out of the two candidates."

Homans to remain through March 1

In addition to appointing Frey, Fausett's motion specified that Homans, the county attorney for approximately 20 years, will be retained until he is no longer needed.

"I would like to make a motion to appoint Mr. Monroe Lynn Frey as county attorney for Dawson County and to retain Mr. Joey Homans as legal counsel until such time that Mr. Frey, the county manager and the board of commissioners agree that the transition plan provided by Mr. Frey has been completed," Fausett said.

Thurmond said that Homans will stay on with the board and have the authority to act as attorney for them throughout the transition period.

"We want the transition to go smoothly and we want both Frey and Homans to feel comfortable with it, no matter how long it takes," Thurmond said. "It could take 30 days, it could take 60."

Since the commission first announced its intention to go in a different direction, Homans has maintained that he would continue to be available to the commissioners until they tell him he is no longer necessary.

However, according to Homans, he has heard that the transition could take 30 to 60 days, or six months, or a year. He said that the exact length of time it could take, or the fee he would charge while he remained, wasn't discussed with him.

"My understanding was that those discussions and comments would be made before any appointment, but no one has discussed the transition with me," Homans said Monday. "This is not something the client normally gets in the middle of. The client normally lets the lawyer work out whatever needs to be done."

Homans outlined the communication he had expected to receive from the board about the transition, but didn't, in a letter to the commissioners on Monday.

According to the letter, Homans expected communication about a meeting to discuss the undefined transition period either before or after the Feb. 2 vote but received none.

Homans said that it was his understanding that he "would be involved in the discussion about transition of legal services for the County before a decision was announced" and that he would be appointed county attorney.

"I appreciate them saying that I am retained, but I expected it would be the other way around and that I would be appointed as county attorney and oversee the transition," Homans said.

Homans outlined his new terms, stating that he will continue to represent the county regarding actions pending as of Feb. 2, unless otherwise notified. He wrote that he will not undertake any new matters on behalf of the county unless he agrees to accept them after consulting with Frey.

"I will be available to meet with Mr. Frey through March. 1, at times scheduled for that purpose," Homans wrote. "However, I will not attend commission meetings beginning Feb. 16. I will submit reports regarding matters for which I am representing the county."

Homans also wrote that he understood that he would be consulted regarding fees during the transition period before any announcement was made, but that he was not consulted about specific fees before the Feb. 2 vote.

As of Feb. 3, the hourly rate for services rendered by Homans and members of his firm will be $225 an hour, as compared to $160 currently. The hourly rate for constitutional and elected officers or the Board of Tax Assessors will be $160, unless they request that he continue work only on open files, then the rate will be $225 an hour.

Smallest county with in-house legal counsel 

Dawson County is the smallest county by population in Georgia to have internal legal counsel, with an estimated 2015 population of 23,312, according to the latest statistics from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

The next smallest county to have an in-house attorney is Sumter County, a south Georgia county with an estimated population of 30,779.

As of 2013, only 14 out of 159 counties in Georgia had internal legal representation, and three have some combination of both.

The other counties with in-house attorneys are Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Fayette, Henry, Clarke, Gordon, Walker, Muscogee, Richmond, Bulloch and Glynn. Union, Clayton and Chatham counties have a combination of in-house and contract attorneys.

All but six of these counties have a population of 100,000 or above.