WILMINGTON — Clinton County’s public defender has asked county commissioners for a $16,000 increase in his office’s salary line item, saying it’s needed to bring the office into compliance with the Ohio Administrative Code.
The public defender office was one of five county government departments to hold individual budget meetings with Clinton County commissioners on the first day of the annual budget appointments. The others were Building Regulations, Treasurer, Board of Elections, and the Records Commission and Microfilm budgets.
Clinton County Public Defender Rob Baker advised that the county would receive a 42 percent reimbursement if his request to increase the salary line by $16,000 is carried out.
Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed asked Baker whether the state’s administrative code is a mandate for county commissioners around the state. The public defender replied he doesn’t know that this particular state code is a mandate commissioners must comply with, but he does “know that the state public defender has indicated if we don’t follow the administrative code, he would consider pulling our funding which is 42 percent of our budget.”
Steed, who leads the local budget talks with county department heads, said when the county commissioners here do the budgets, they ask every office to start discussions at a zero salary increase. Then, commissioners and the department heads will go through the proposed line items in the individual departmental budgets and, in Steed’s words, first pay the bills as they go through the budget process with all the county offices.
Then, if there’s the will and the ability, commissioners will provide additional funds throughout the county offices staffs “on the most even basis we possibly can,” said Steed.
Steed added that while the county commissioners want to respect what the local public defender’s commission members have approved, “our [county commissoners’] process will go through its normal process, and hopefully we will be able to find some additional monies [at the end of the process].”
Toward the end of the appointment, Baker said one thing he’s been trying to stop or stem since he became director of the local public defender office — adding he’s not been very successful at it — “is the flow of people in and out. People come on and see public defender as a stepping stone instead of a career.”
A public defender or an assistant public defender provides legal representation to people accused of a crime who cannot afford to hire an attorney. It is Baker’s view that the position of public defenders should be seen more as a career rather than as a stepping stone to something else in the field of law.
“I want to be able to pay the appropriate amount of money they should be making,” said Baker, who’s been a part of the Clinton County Public Defender Office for a dozen years.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.