HIRED GUN

THE ISSUE: County seeks bankruptcy attorney for protection.

OUR OPINION: A good idea, but keep your hands close to your wallet.

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The Citrus Board of County Commissioners has approved a request from County Attorney Denise Lyn to hire an attorney to assist in the bankruptcy issues with DAB Construction and Nature Coast EMS. We hardly need to dig down into the black holes of the U.S. 19 construction debacle and the dollar-draining funnel of the EMS disaster.

But even then, the county needs to try to recover from these fiascos. It’s no secret that Citrus County isn’t rolling in wealth. The BOCC is held accountable and looked at closely by citizens and the press.

Ms. Lyn’s request put a cap on the dollar amount she said she needs to employ this specialty hired gun. It’s $8,000. In reviewing the contract submitted to her by the bankruptcy law firm she picked, their going rate is $300 an hour for government work. A review of hourly rates nationwide shows that Florida’s average rate for government work is about $294 an hour, so Ms. Lyn’s choice is in the ballpark. Not bad for slugging it out in the trenches.

But speaking of a fight, we feel this money is well-spent protection to keep Citrus County — and its taxpayers — sleeping peacefully at night. We have no idea of the future litigation on the horizon in Citrus County, but this Pinellas County firm appears a good choice because bankruptcy firms focus on one of two issues: protecting debtors or going for the money owed creditors. The chosen one — Blanchard Law in Largo — seems perched on protecting debtors. That would be Citrus County.

One might ask why are we hiring an attorney when we already have one who gets an annual salary? It’s a reasonable question. With a reasonable analogy. A person goes to his or her general practitioner for routine care, but when a health crisis occurs, the best action is to see that specialist — cardiologist, neurosurgeon, oncologist or whomever. A sick heart, brain, or cancer are only talking points with your GP. When your life is on the line, it’s time to bring in the big guns.

In her memorandum to the board, Lyn stated as much, saying there is an urgency in relation to payments and title issues with the county’s assumption of  the EMS services. This was discussed extensively by the commissioners and staff at the Oct. 9 commission meeting, with Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach wondering why we need to go to another county to hire a bankruptcy lawyer. She wondered how many specialty firms are in Citrus County that focus on this branch of the law. Ms. Lyn couldn’t provide a specific number, but regardless of that, the county has positioned itself with a defensive wall in terms of litigation. And the $8,000 is already accounted for as a line item in the annual budget for outside attorney assistance, being only 10% of the $80,000 available. We encourage the remaining $72,000 to be returned to the general fund at the end of this fiscal year. And like an auction, “Going once, going twice,” the gavel closes on $8,000.

And not a penny more.