Mills, Fremont Counties Begin Attorney-sharing Agreement

-A A +A
By Joe Foreman, Editor

Naeda Elliott will serve as the county attorney for both Mills and Fremont County in 2019 and possibly through 2022 under terms of a 28-E agreement signed last February by elected officials from both counties.

The unique arrangement was broached last winter by Fremont County as a way for the neighboring counties to provide “county attorney services to their respective counties in a more economical manner through sharing the services of a single, multicounty county attorney office,” according to language of the 28-E.

In recent years, Fremont County has struggled to keep a county attorney in place, due in part to a lack of licensed attorneys residing within its borders. The pact with Mills County was signed after former Fremont County Attorney Brenna Bird announced last winter that she would not seek re-election in 2018. Bird, who resides in Dexter, instead ran for and was elected Guthrie County Attorney in November. She left office in Fremont County last fall, before her term had expired, expediting the sharing agreement.

“There are attorneys in Fremont County, but none that have expressed interest in the job,” Elliott said. “That’s why we felt it was important that we get somebody who has a passion for the job and the skills for the job to be able to help out Fremont County - be the county attorney and be able to supply services without having to live in the county.”

According to a spokesperson for the Iowa County Attorney’s Association, the Mills-Fremont attorney-sharing agreement is one of only three in the state. Elliott said Taylor and Ringold counties have successfully shared a county attorney for several years.

As part of the 28-E agreement, Elliott and deputy county attorney Tyler Loontjer are receiving salaries from both Mills and Fremont Counties. In addition to the $92,052 salary she’s being paid as Mills County Attorney, Elliott is making $38,000 as the Fremont County Attorney, according to information provided by the Mills and Fremont County Auditor’s offices. Loontjer, who is currently on leave while receiving military training for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) program, is receiving salaries of $78,244 from Mills County and $32,300 from Fremont County. Mills County is providing health insurance for Elliott and Loontjer, but is being reimbursed by Fremont County for a portion of the insurance coverage cost.

Noting that she and Loontjer work as “a team,” Elliott said they spend about one-third of their time in Fremont County, where the case load is lighter than in Mills County.

“It’s per needed. If I have something I need to accomplish in Mills, I work in Mills,” she said. “If I have something I need to have done in Fremont, I work in Fremont. We do as much work necessary to complete the job. It’s not a 9-to-5 or 8-to-5 (job). If we need to work nights or weekends, we do so.”

Her work in Mills County isn’t being compromised as a result of the additional duties, Elliott said.

“Everything that needs to be taken care of in Mills County is absolutely being covered. We are doing everything full force in both counties. It just takes more time on my part, I find a way to work those hours into the day.

“The benefit I have is that I have two staff members who are really capable and really competent here (Mills County) and two staff members down there (Fremont County) that are the same way. They keep me on track.”
Loontjer has been receiving full pay and benefits since beginning JAG training last October, but is about to exhaust his allotted paid vacation and days off. He will not be paid by Mills County during the final month of his training, which is expected to be completed in late February. After he finishes the training, Loontjer will fulfill his military obligation on a reserve basis.

“We’re accommodating him for his military service because we’re proud of him,” Elliott said. “We know he’s going to do a great job. It’s only going to be a weekend every month and two weeks a year so it’s not going to take him away from his obligations here in Mills and Fremont.”

Loontjer’s absence has created a temporary staffing issue in the county attorney’s office, forcing Elliott to turn to Pottawattamie County for some help.  Last week, the Mills County Board of Supervisors authorized assistance from the Pottawattamie County Attorney’s Office with the understanding that any accrued costs would be offset by Loontjer not receiving his salary for the last month of his JAG training. Elliott said Pottawattamie County will assist her on days when she has court appearances scheduled in both Mills and Fremont counties.

“We have the manpower if Tyler’s here. There’s just circumstances right here this minute where there are two hearings scheduled for the same day,” she said. “That’s where Pott County is going to help, where there are two days of hearings scheduled overlapping.

“Tyler’s not being paid for a month so we have his salary to work with. It will not exceed our budget here in Mills.”

Lonnie Mayberry, a member of the Mills County Board of Supervisors, said he and fellow supervisors Richard Crouch and Carol Vinton support the shared county attorney arrangement with Fremont County, but have requested that they be made aware of any conflicts, issues or problems that arise as a result of the agreement, which expires Jan. 1, 2023. Both counties have the option of terminating the agreement with 90 days written notice.