County could be headed to court

Melanie Ford remains hopeful that her appeal against St. Louis County challenging her salary and county attorney's office budget can be resolved without further cost.

Melanie Ford remains hopeful that her appeal against St. Louis County challenging her salary and county attorney's office budget can be resolved without further cost.

But the dispute appears headed for court.

A Minneapolis attorney representing the county said Tuesday at a County Board meeting in Duluth that he will file a motion in district court asking that Ford's appeal be dismissed.

"It's an awkward case," said Scott Anderson, an attorney with the law firm Ratwik, Roszak and Maloney. "The County Board wants to work with the county attorney. It's not a case against the County Board but a case against the public. However, the County Board is hoping it can get this case resolved as soon as possible.''

Ford, a Duluth attorney, defeated seven-term County Attorney Alan Mitchell in November's general election.


In December, before she took office, Ford filed a 14-page affidavit in St. Louis County District Court appealing her starting salary of $95,125 and challenging the trimming of $100,000 from the 2007 county attorney's office budget.

Anderson says the county will seek a dismissal of Ford's appeal because Ford filed the appeal before she became county attorney.

Ford was sworn in on Jan. 2.

"She wasn't officially county attorney at that time," Anderson said. "We are asking the court to take a look at the statutory factors."

State statutes say that a county attorney can file an appeal such as Ford's, but not the county attorney-elect, Anderson said.

Anderson said the motion for dismissal would on an undetermined date before a judge within St. Louis County.

Because the issue involves county officials, judges within the county could recuse themselves from the case and have a judge from another county decide the case, Anderson said. It could take from two to six months for the case to be heard, he said.

On the salary issue, Anderson said Ford isn't being treated any different than other county department heads have in the past.


"When the sheriff and county auditor came on board, they came in at that same salary grade," Anderson said. "Ms. Ford was handled in the same regard. They're (the county) following the policies."

The dispute has caused some friction between some board members and Ford and has resulted in extensive public comment.

Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township said that as long as the issue lingers, there would be a "trial by media."

"For as long as this continues, we will be tried by the media," Nelson said. "But I was not elected by the media, I was elected by 75 percent of the people in my district. It's part of the nature of this beast, but this is very expensive."

Anderson, who has performed legal work for other counties and cities in the state, will be paid $150 an hour, according to Lisa Potswald, St. Louis County deputy administrator.

Ford's attorney is Elizabeth Storaasli of Duluth,

Ford, County Board Chairman Bill Kron of Duluth and County Administrator Dana Frey will meet Thursday to "break the ice," Kron said. However, litigation between the two sides wouldn't be discussed, Kron said.

"I'm still hopeful we will be able to work out something without incurring any further legal fees," Ford said Tuesday afternoon after learning of the county's plans to file for a dismissal.


LEE BLOOMQUIST can be reached weekdays at (800)368-2506, (218)744-2354 or by e-mail at .

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