Supervisors replace Ausbern with interim attorney

1STOCK NEMS Chickasaw Co HOUSCHICKASAW COUNTY — Living in a small county often means local government does business with family and friends of city and county officials and can prompt a perceived conflict of interest.

A lawsuit between Ausbern Construction and Chickasaw County for work on a county road last year may have led the county to vote unanimously to hire Gary Carnathan as interim Chickasaw County Board of Supervisors attorney January 7.

The motion to hire Carnathan as interim at $2,891.67 per month was made by Dist. 4 Supervisor Jerry Hall and seconded by Dist. 3 Supervisor Russell Brooks with supervisors Anderson McFarland, David Gene Walters and Russell King voting for the motion.

The vote removed Elizabeth Ausbern from the post of board attorney. But Ausbern’s status and if she might be reinstated as board attorney is not clear.

Ausbern is the wife of Terry Ausbern, owner of Ausbern Construction, of Okolona. Ausbern Construction is currently in litigation with the county seeking payment for work the company did on County Road 4.

In the lawsuit, Ausbern is asking for an overage of not less than $220,000 in payment for grading and resurfacing 1.39-miles of County Road 4. Ausbern Construction is also asking for damages in the case. The bid for the work on CR was awarded on Nov. 23, 2010.

Supervisors Brooks and Walters would not comment on the record about the case citing potential litigation. Supervisors McFarland and King could not be reached for comment.

“We have hired an interim attorney and we replaced Elizabeth on an interim basis” said Hall. “I can’t respond to what might happen since the case against the county is in litigation.”

Ausbern said she has not been told exactly why Carnathan was hired as the supervisor’s attorney.

“They did not express an opinion or give a reason at the board meeting about why I was not re-appointed,” said Elizabeth Ausbern. Ausbern added no supervisor has expressed concern to her about her performance or talked to her about the ongoing suit with Ausbern Construction.

Ausbern said she sought an opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission in May 2011 and that opinion said the board attorney’s spouse could be a contractor or subcontractor to the county only if the board attorney exercises no control, directly or indirectly, over the contract.

Hall pointed out the county hires the road manager, county engineer, board attorney and other county employees at the first of every year. He also pointed out the board had hired Carnathan to defend the county in their lawsuit with Ausbern Construction.

“We will get one bill and he (Carnathan) will represent Chickasaw County,” said Hall. “I can’t look into the future and say who the board might hire (as their attorney).

“No one has taken any pleasure in doing this, but I am elected to do a job for the people of Chickasaw County,” said Hall. “This has been difficult but I think what we did was in the best interest of Chickasaw County.”

Carnathan was hired by Chickasaw County this summer to specifically represent them in the case against Ausbern Construction.

Chickasaw County records obtained under a Freedom of Information request show the county has paid the firm of Carnathan & McAuley $3,237.50 and the firm of Mitchell, McNutt and Sams $15,101.49 as co-council related to the lawsuit with Ausbern Construction.

No trial date for the county’s suit with Ausbern Construction has been set but a motion for change of venue has been filed.

 

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