County continues search for attorney

County officials renewed their agreement this week with Palatka law firm Holmes & Young while they continue their search for a full-time county attorney.

The agreement allows the firm to continue offering its legal services to the county until Aug. 31 while increasing its monthly fee from $7,500 to $10,000, according to a letter authorizing the extension signed by legal partner Russell Castleberry and County Administrator Terry Suggs. 

If the county still hasn’t hired a new county attorney by then, the agreement will renew on a monthly basis, the letter added.

“The original contract was for a very small window of time, and we thought we would have had everything done by then,” Suggs said.

Holmes & Young has represented Putnam County since Stacey Manning left the county attorney position in March. Suggs said three candidates had come forward to bid for the job, but the county has yet to find a fit.

Under the current agreement, the county is paying the law firm to provide 20 weekly hours of “general counsel services,” including attending regular meetings and workshops and performing routine legal services. 

While its fee to perform those services has changed, other duties, like representing the county in business transactions, continue to cost $250 an hour.

After three months of searching, county officials were able to find three candidates, one of whom has since dropped out after accepting a position elsewhere, Suggs said. And while the extended agreement expires in less than three months, officials are looking to move quickly.

“If the interviews go well, we’re probably looking at 30 more days,” Suggs said.

“Hopefully, we can have this thing wrapped up and done by then.”

At a May 14 workshop, county commissioners were concerned about only three candidates vying for the vacant position. Commissioner Terry Turner and others suggested Suggs hire a recruiter so the county would have more options from which to find a new attorney.

“You’re having a hard time convincing me there isn’t a qualified attorney out there who doesn’t want to make $120,000 a year or however much it pays,” Turner said at the time, calling the search process “one of the most important hires Putnam County will ever make.”

The extension takes into account the possibility of having to expand the search via a third-party firm, Suggs said. And there are no stipulations in the agreement penalizing Holmes & Young or the county for prematurely terminating the agreement.

Still, there have been few discussions about resorting to that option since that workshop, Suggs said. 

Holmes & Young has deep connections in representing governments in Putnam County, including Castleberry having been Manning’s predecessor in representing the county. 

Don Holmes and George Young, the eponymous partners at the firm, have represented local municipalities, including Interlachen and Palatka. While listed as an assistant attorney along with Young, Castleberry has been present at virtually all regular meetings since the agreement took effect.

“It’s a blessing to work with them in this capacity, and if we are fortunate to have a new attorney to call this county home, that would be very beneficial to all of us as well as the citizens of Putnam County,” Suggs said.

Palatka Daily News

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