The Revenue Commissioner and Probate Office had several items on the agenda when the County Commission met last Wednesday. All items on the agenda passed.
A consulting contract with Telesia Chambers was approved for the mapping and appraisal departments of the Revenue Commissioner’s office. Revenue Commissioner Michael Johnson said this was approved in March and it is time to renew again.
Attorney Clint Maze recommended that this particular contract be approved, but he wanted to speak about future approval. He wanted the Commission to request an attorney general’s opinion on whether a contracted consultant for mapping and appraisal should be covered under the Personnel Board.
Maze said the contract with Chambers is going into the fourth year. He recommended approving the contract, however, he was not certain how long this contract would last when they accepted it in year one. He began to look at the Personnel Act and said there is no question that this independent contractor is providing services to the county. When he looked at the Personnel Act, there are several comments about an individual being in the service of the county.
The definition of an independent contractor is blurry, Maze said. He has recommended for three years and is recommending for a fourth year that this person be hired as an independent contractor. However, the Commission has no protection from an independent audit from the Department of Public Standards and an auditor could come back and say this person is an employee not a contractor.
If you have an attorney general’s opinion that specifically states that the person is a contractor, the Commission is in essence provided protection and cannot be financially liable for that decision, Maze said. Some may recall the situation when the coroner’s pay was changed and how they had to go to Montgomery to have local legislation ratify the payments made to the coroner.
Maze said he is just trying to save the Commission all that work. He is still under the opinion that she is an independent contractor. The attorney general’s opinion would be good to have so there are no issues in the future. An audit can go back three years, so he does not want something to surprise them.
Kelley said the Commission had approved this for the last three years and the auditor had not said a word about it.
Maze confirmed that the auditor had not said anything about this, but the audit is only a sample. They do not go line by line; they pull sections out and go through those. The coroner’s issue was not an issue for many years and then they looked at that section which caused it to be an issue.
Kelley asked if they had contract consultants.
Maze said they do and there are a lot of examples of that. He told the Commission that they were speaking with one at that moment. Maze is not a county employee; he works on contract. They use many contractual people in the Commission such as someone who does appraisals.
Maze said with the attorney general’s opinion, it is just that an opinion. You have to keep up to date on the opinion. There have been cases where the opinion has changed, especially when a new attorney general takes office.
As the relationship continues with the same independent contractor, it looks more like an employee. The architect that they hired, they expect that contract to end within a year. If it rolled over to year two, they may have some items lingering so that would be okay. However, the longer the relationship with a contractor, they more it needs a look whether that is an employee versus contractor.
Kelley declared that Maze as a contractor is there and has been there.
Maze confirmed that he has been there for a while, but an attorney is detailed in a code section specifically dealing with county attorneys. The code section is specific stating they are not employees, but they do not have something that specific for the mapping and appraising department.
Johnson said Chambers started in 2017 so this would be her third year. It seems like it is a matter between the Commission and the Personnel Board more than it is with him. He believes this is the fifth time this year that this issue has come up and he would like for some type of decision to be made.
District 4 Commission Joey Baker was concerned if they approved one item that it may affect another.
Johnson said they have 20 days to get out of the contract and Maze agreed.
Maze said the Personnel Act provides for the hiring of temporary employees and she can work up to 120 days in each calendar year. The way Chambers is working, she is limited to 20 hours per week for the calendar year along with a cap on the maximum amount she will be paid. He is not concerned about the pay, but he is concerned with the 8 hours a day with the 20 hours max, she can work up to a maximum of 960 hours in each calendar year. She has not approached that in the last three years.
District 1 Commissioner Ronny Shumate said he understands the reasons behind getting the opinion of the attorney general. He wanted to know what they need to do if the attorney general determines it is a full-time position.
Maze said the attorney general cannot say that this is a full-time or part-time position. The only thing he can say is if it is an independent contractor or an employee.
Johnson said the budget that this consulting service falls under is approved by the Department of Revenue. They are aware of Chambers and they have a copy of her agreement. They have never said anything about it and they approved this year’s budget with her contract already in there.
Shumate feels like they are “making much to do about nothing” but either way he feels like they are covering themselves asking for the opinion from the attorney general.
Maze wanted to state for the record that everyone is happy and satisfied with the job that Chambers is doing and the way she is doing it along with the way she is being paid.
Hutcheson said they hired Maze to give legal advice and he believes they need to follow his advice on this matter. It doesn’t cost anything to get an opinion from the attorney general.
Maze said this gives them the protection and if they get an opinion that they need to do it differently then they have the means to change it. It would only be the one step to go in front of the Personnel Board and get it approved.
The fact that this has become a fourth-year contract this year is the concern Maze has. The law defines independent contractors in such a way that it is very clear to look at some and determine that is an independent contractor. However, it will look at some and say that one is close. He said this one is getting closer to an employee, but he still believes it is an independent contractor as well. He would like to get the attorney general’s opinion because it is so close.
The Commission passed the request to get the attorney general’s opinion on whether contracted consultant for mapping and appraisal should be covered under the Personnel Board. The vote was 2-1. Shumate and Baker voted for the opinion while Kelley voted against. District 2 Commissioner Rick Watson was not at the meeting.
Maze said for some reason every time he has ever asked for an attorney general’s opinion it comes in twos. He discussed that probate and the revenue commission offices use mail-out services. This company has come along and tailored their services to these specific departments. As far as he can tell they are vital.
He said the issue is that they are spending more than the bid law allows. There is a discussion at the state level about the amount has to be bid and he admits that it should probably be updated. The bid law was passed a long time ago when you could buy a lot for $15,000. Today, that is not the case.
He believes that this will be a unique service kind of like the software service. As he understands, the probate and the revenue office use the companies they do because they each have unique needs. In some instances, the county data is transferred to the company and they are responsible for keeping it up to date.
When the mail-out is ready to go, they do the printing, the addressing and the mailing. The commission pays for the postage. He said it is a fantastic service, but because the bid amount is $15,000 that this does have to be bid. There is no real competition.
He wants to make sure they are doing it correctly. He just wants the attorney general’s opinion on bidding or no bidding for mailing services.
County Administrator Shelly Fleisher wanted to make sure that everyone knew the Commission did vote sometime in this year to go out for bids on this service.
The company the probate office uses does a lot more than just the mail-out. They accept payments online and some other unique services.
Maze said it was his understanding that the services being provided exceeds $15,000 without regard to the amount of postage. It is more than $15,000 and then you have to add the amount for postage.
Johnson said the postage is separated from the actual service. He believes that they may have exceeded the $15,000 if you do not include the postage. They cannot give a specific amount of postage or material they will use in a year. He explained they may combine items one year.
Maze said there may be more people not paying their taxes which causes the cost to go up as well.
The main issue is that they are using one company for all of these services. If they were able to break down their invoices, they may not be spending over the $15,000. However, because they are using one company it looks as though they are going over the bid law amount. Maze recommended that they get the opinion of the attorney general.
The Commission is requesting the attorney general’s opinion on mail-out services for probate and revenue commission. All voted in favor of this motion.
Board of Equalization
The Marshall County Commission submitted two potential board members to the state for the Board of Equalization, which is a four-year term ending October 2023. The names they recommended were Ken Smith of Grant and Keith Swisher of Center Point.
Swisher was previously on the Personnel Board and is currently serving on a water board. Johnson said there may be an issue if he is serving on another board. It is in the code about serving on another board. He is not sure if Swisher would be able to serve if he is serving on a board that serves in Marshall County.
Johnson said he will follow up since both names were submitted. The Commission has the option to submit up to three names. He explained that they are unique in this aspect. They will look over the names submitted and make a decision based on the needs of the position.
Shumate said he spoke with three people and each person said they would not be interested in the position.
Johnson said it is not something that people want to get into much, but it is a vital part of their business. He thanked the commissioners for making their nominations.
- The Commission approved a payment in the amount of $768 to Howard Bentley. This was for tires.
- A Revenue Commissioner’s request for payment to Diversified/Divcodata in the amount of $7,655 was approved. This is out of the $26,830 for mail out services less excess postage of $19,175.1 Fleisher said the way this company works is they request the postage upfront when they do a mail-out service and if there is anything left, they apply it to the invoice. Johnson said that is the way they have to do this type of bid.
- EMA director Anita McBurnett had two items on the Commission agenda. The first was the agreement for the Emergency Management Performance Grant. It was in the amount of $43,357 with no match. The second was a 25 percent federal funding increase for the emergency management performance grant in the amount of $12,000 with no match. Both were approved.
- County Engineer Bob Pirando said he spoke with District 2 Commissioner Rick Watson about needing to solicit bids for a 30-foot trailer. He is wanting to use this trailer for his bush hog. He recommended that they add one or more in case other Commissioners want to get one as well.