YORK – Last Tuesday, the York County Commissioners unanimously voted to not allow any contracts with Clay County for county attorney/prosecution services, as requested by York County Attorney John Lyons who said he was seeking their support.
Following the meeting, Lyons signed the contract anyway, saying he will temporarily serve Clay County as their lead prosecutor for at least six months.
The matter was brought to the commissioners by Lyons after he learned Clay County currently has no county attorney and officials there were having difficulty hiring one.
They do have a deputy county attorney – just not a lead county attorney.
He asked for the county board’s blessing to provide their county attorney services for six months – he would be paid directly by Clay County. He said further that after the six months, there could be a review to see whether York County should sign an interlocal agreement for permanent county attorney services. He also suggested the same type of agreement might be feasible for him to also serve Merrick and Polk Counties, in the future, as Merrick County has a temporary county attorney at this time and the Polk County attorney is nearing retirement.
Lyons also suggested this could be a step toward creating a district attorney-type of arrangement with the lead district attorney being in York County and deputies being located in the other participating counties.
The commissioners, however, said no, citing concerns about caseload. Lyons has been updating the county board for months regarding the caseload here, saying the number of felony cases is at a record high level. The York County board members said if there is such a high caseload here, they didn’t see how he would have time to fulfill the duties for both counties. There were also questions about separating the expenses connected to duties in two jurisdictions.
The commissioners also said they felt York County shouldn’t be responsible for solving Clay County’s issues with retaining a county attorney. It was noted that Clay County is currently being assisted by the Nebraska Attorney General’s office.
“These counties are in these places because they did not follow through with their responsibility to hire and pay qualified people,” Commissioner Jack Sikes said at this week’s meeting. “This should not be placed on York County’s shoulders. Seems to me we’re being asked to supplement other counties who don’t pay enough to keep their attorneys. Management has a lot to do with it. But I don’t see why we would contract with another county because they don’t want to pay a livable wage.”
“With the caseload we have here, I don’t know if we can afford to share the county attorney with another county,” Commissioner Bill Bamesberger said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“I talked with their chairman about their issues and while I’m sympathetic to what they have going on there, I see this as a Clay County problem spilling over to be a York County problem,” Commissioner Randy Obermier said Tuesday. “York County is a close second to Platte County regarding caseload, and we have a much lower population. And for Clay County, this would still only be a Band-Aid. If we choose to allow this contract, are we saying we’d be interested later in an interlocal? I think the state should look into this.”
“They, Clay County, have a deputy county attorney who is not doing their job,” Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin said. “Where is their deputy attorney? That’s the job, when the elected official cannot serve, the deputy steps in. This is a Clay County problem. I think we need to wait for guidance from the attorney general. I’m not comfortable with a contract for this with Clay County. It’s their problem. I’m going to say no.”
Lyons argued this would be a way for him to make additional money, as private practice here would result in conflicts of interest.
The commissioners said no to Lyons’ proposal.
Lyons confirmed Thursday he went to Clay County and signed the contract anyway.
He also issued a statement regarding the matter:
“I regret that the York Board of Commissioners refused to take a stand against crime affecting both our community and our neighbors' communities, together with the principles of law and order. I honestly did not expect the reaction by the board, especially when I was encouraged by the same board to reach out to Clay County. I am disheartened by the mischaracterizations made about the good people of Clay County -- they are our neighbors; they are our friends. What I heard, and the indifference shown to our neighbors at the board meeting, is not the Nebraska way. It is not Nebraska nice; nor is it civility in any way.
“I come from a region ravaged by hurricanes and tornados. And, folks, maybe it was because in those communities we rely so heavily on one another in times of need, or maybe it was because I was raised with the Christian values that we respond to our neighbors' call for help; but, we reach out to them in their hour of need. It is what I understood is the farmer's way; it's what I thought I had found in this community ... in my community of York. I am truly sorry that yesterday we let you down. Either I didn't say it right, or the board just wasn't getting it, but either way, you the people of York deserve much more from us. You deserve leadership that works together to meet your needs and the needs of our neighbors. You have my promise that I will do better to foster relationships with allies and win over adversaries to the cause of making yours a better community to live in.
“I have worked tirelessly to make York a community that everyone can be proud of. My office has partnered with multiple jurisdictions' agencies to combat crimes affecting our community that originate here and from a number of surrounding counties and metropolitan areas. I have taken seriously my oath to protect and defend the public and the rule of law. I am so ashamed that my colleagues on the Board of Commissioners chose not to join us all, you the good citizens of York County and myself, in that fight.
“Nebraska Revised Statute §32-604 authorizes ‘a county attorney may serve as the county attorney for more than one county if appointed under subsection (2) of section 23-1201.01.’ I have acted in accordance with Nebraska law, and without my board’s support, however it is my sincere hope that as I go forward in the coming weeks that I have yours. I have entered into a 6-month agreement, under Nebraska Revised Statute §23-1201.01, with Clay County to serve as their county attorney, in addition to being the county attorney here in York. This course of action has the approval of the Nebraska Attorney General, Nebraska Elections Commission, Nebraska Association of Counties (NACO) of which York County is a member county. My duties in Clay County will take a relatively small fraction of my time to accomplish, and my service to Clay County will be at no cost to York County taxpayers. As a public service and government attorney, I have no private clients. My single client is the State of Nebraska, which is comprised of you, all of its citizens.
“Those of us in your county government offices chose to serve in order to better the lives of the citizens of York County and Nebraska because it gives unique meaning our own. Going forward, I renew my commitment to the finest people I know, living and working beside me every day, right here…sharing in the good life, in York, Nebraska. I am so immeasurably proud to live among you, as one of you.”
York County Commissioner Chairman Obermier said the county board members would discuss the matter at their next meeting and had no comment on Lyons’ actions at this particular time.