Board OKs raise for city attorney

By Tom Joyce -

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved a 66 percent pay raise Thursday night for the city attorney, but the decision was not a slam-dunk.

It did so by way of a 4-1 vote, with the board’s Dean Brown dissenting. A motion by Brown at the start of the discussion, to grant City Attorney Hugh Campbell an increase of a lesser sum and phase in the full 66 percent over a two-year period, died for lack of a second.

However, other commissioners favored the raise as proposed, including Jim Armbrister, who had successfully lobbied two weeks earlier to table the matter to a future meeting. Armbrister, Brown and the council’s Steve Yokeley voted for that delay, citing concerns raised by citizens over the figure involved.

“We’ve been able to accumulate some good factual information,” Armbrister said of what had transpired since the Aug. 6 meeting — city attorney salary figures from other localities showing that what was proposed for Campbell was in line with those.

Under a new contract approved Thursday night, Campbell’s compensation will rise to $4,167 per month, a yearly figure of about $50,000, and he also will be paid $150 per hour for additional services outside his normal course of work.

Up to this point, Campbell has received a monthly fee of $2,500, which amounts to $30,000 on an annual basis, plus the $150 per hour for extra services.

“Looking at what we had in comparison with other cities,” Armbrister said, noting that some of those don’t have the legal workload Mount Airy does, “twenty-four/seven we’re getting a good deal — we know what we’re getting.”

Thursday’s discussion indicated that Campbell, who has been city attorney since 2002 and not received a raise in about 10 years, has always responded to any legal issues that arise day or night.

Commissioner Jon Cawley said Campbell hasn’t charged for the municipality for hours that likely would have amounted to the $50,000 figure represented by the raise.

“Fifty-thousand dollars is not very much,” Cawley said in reference to what he described as a minuscule percentage of the city’s total personnel budget.

“I think we’re getting great value,” he added of the contract with the city attorney.

Yokeley also said he now supports the 66 percent hike based on a review of the compensation figures from other communities.

“After looking at this list of localities that are nearby,” he said, “I think we have been grossly underpaying (Campbell) for several years, because he has not had a raise for some time.”

Yokeley added that he believes the city attorney “earns every penny.”

He also pointed out that the compensation Campbell receives from the city government must help him run his law practice, since as a businessman the attorney has to pay salary, telephone and other operating costs.

Some other localities consulted provide offices for attorneys and include them on the payroll.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley supported the increase for Campbell Thursday night, as she had two weeks earlier. “I haven’t changed my mind,” said Brinkley, who praised the “quality service” supplied by Campbell.

“He knows the city.”

Brown’s position was that Campbell be paid $3,000 monthly rather than the $4,167 proposed, but allow the latter level to be reached within the next two years.

This represented a compromise to both address the concerns of citizens dissatisfied with the 66 percent increase and also save the city about $25,000 over that period, according to Brown.

“And the attorney would get a raise,” he reasoned.

“I want to emphasize this is a financial question,” Brown said, which does not reflect Campbell’s “outstanding” service to the city.

After the 4-1 vote, Campbell expressed his gratitude.

“Thank you very much,” he told council members. “I’m very grateful for tonight’s action.”

Campbell said it is good to be part of the city’s team.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

By Tom Joyce

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