The Fayette County Commission voted 4-1 Thursday night to sever the contract with the county’s staff attorney Scott Bennett.
Under Bennett’s contract, he will receive six months worth of severance pay, which equals $67,500. Commissioner Steve Brown cast the sole vote against the measure.
Commissioner Robert Horgan told The Citizen that the move was due to a belief that Bennett’s job will be in jeopardy in January because of problems that have occurred between Brown and Bennett.
“With Steve (Brown) it is just not the right work atmosphere, especially if Steve is not trusting what Scott is telling him,” Horgan said. “I fully believe they were going to get rid of Scott and it was going to be blown up to be a big deal.”
Horgan said he heard that Brown was considering an attempt to void Bennett’s contract because it began in late 2010 before Brown took office.
“Because of all those things, we felt, ‘hey, if y’all need to have a fresh start, just like a new county administrator, maybe it’s time to get another in-house attorney,’” Horgan said.
That means the new county attorney will be chosen by the “new” commission as three brand-new commissioners will be sworn in January to join holdover commissioners Brown and Allen McCarty, both of whom will be in the middle of their four-year terms.
Horgan noted that Bennett has saved the county a significant amount of money by operating as an in-house attorney as opposed to outside counsel. For example, when the county refinanced bonds recently, Bennett did not take a commission which other contract county attorneys have done in the past, resulting in a savings of thousands of dollars.
The motion to let Bennett go was not a matter of the commission being dissatisfied with his work, Horgan said.
“None of this reflects on his professional capability in doing the work,” Horgan said. “He’s been great.”
Bennett’s departure will not leave the county without an attorney, as outside attorney Don Comer has experience in working on county matters and may continue to do so until a new in-house attorney is chosen, Horgan said.
“My only fear is: don’t revert back to having outside counsel,” Horgan said, noting that having Bennett as an in-house attorney has been beneficial to taxpayers compared to the previous setup of having an outside attorney represent the county and charge an hourly rate.