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Berkeley County considers adding legal director job

February 02, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Norwood Bentley III, the Berkeley County Commission's legal counsel for 14 years, said Thursday he would need time to think about applying for a newly proposed "in-house legal director" position being contemplated by the commission.

"Frankly, I've been surprised they didn't bring it up earlier," Bentley said of the job, one of three administrative positions that county leaders are considering adding to the government's payroll.

Bentley, 59, has provided legal services to the commission through a contract the county has with Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love LLP, a regional law firm that has an office in downtown Martinsburg and five locations in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

"I think this makes a lot of sense," Bentley said.

The county has a $92,000-per-year base contract with the law firm, but pays more for specialty matters, such as bond issues, and tax and labor questions, Bentley said.

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In presenting the proposal to add the legal director post and coordinators for grant program applications and emergency services and safety to the county payroll, Human Resources Director Alan Davis told commissioners that Bentley's replacement still could demand as much as a six-figure salary.

"You will notice this is not an entry-level position," Davis said.

He also said that Berkeley County would be the exception in the Eastern Panhandle, but said neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia either had legal staff or were about to fill a newly created position.

Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said he and fellow commissioners Steven C. Teufel and William "Bill" Stubblefield had the blessing of Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely, who is recognized by the state constitution as the county attorney.

Bentley agreed that a staff position would eliminate any potential conflict of interest, but not necessarily end the county's relationship with his employer.

Stubblefield said the grant coordinator post ultimately could pay for itself and help county officers such as Sheriff W. Randy Smith administer grants already awarded.

"This could well be a cost savings rather than just an expenditure," Stubblefield said.

Commissioners were less supportive of creating a liaison position between the commission and all emergency service providers that also would be responsible for coordinating all safety measures and activities within county government.

"I've read through (the proposed job description) and I see a lot of duplication here," Teufel said.

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