Jack of All Trades: Embrace It

By Aimee Scotton

It’s an oft-repeated refrain when referring to government work — Jack of all trades; Master of none.  Sadly, it’s a cliché because it’s true.  I’ve been the in-house county attorney for Randolph County for 21 years now.  Twenty-one years.  You’d think that after 21 years, I’d have this county attorney thing down pat, but that’s not the case.  Instead, I’ve come to realize that I will never have this county attorney thing down pat because this county attorney thing is a constantly changing animal.  No day is ever the same as the day before.  Even after 21 years, there is not a week where something doesn’t pop up that I’ve never encountered before.

Just yesterday, I negotiated terms in an economic development contract, worked with the human resources director on a particularly hairy personnel issue, drafted motions in a tax department issue, reviewed a policy regarding the use of county-owned space by private groups, met with the chairman of the Voluntary Ag District Board regarding an issue they’re encountering, and responded to yet another public records request.  Back in the fall, I held a TEFRA hearing.  I didn’t even know what TEFRA was.  That’s both the beauty and the beast of being a county attorney.

It’s also why I have a running “to-do” list with target dates attached to each item.  This list helps me arrive to work each day with a plan.  These are only targets, though, and I almost never hit a bullseye.  After all, it’s the little things that will undo a plan, and little things pop up every day.

For example, earlier this month, I encountered something that seemed simple at first blush (don’t they all?).  Our regular commissioners’ meeting is generally held the first Monday of the year.  There are two exceptions to this.  One is Labor Day (we don’t work on Labor Day — note the irony).  In September, we meet on the first Tuesday.  The other exception is in March, when the first Monday generally conflicts with the National Association of County Commissioners annual conference.  In March, we meet on the second Monday of the month.  We know this going in and, in keeping with the North Carolina General Statutes, our duly adopted regular meeting schedule reflects this.  The problem arose when the second Monday in March arrived and brought snow with it.  Our board wanted to reschedule the meeting.  Simple, right?  Not at all.  And strangely enough, as far as anyone here is aware, even those who have been here longer than me, it’s something that we’d never encountered before.

Turns out, there’s no statutory provision for rescheduling a regular county commissioner meeting.  There’s no statutory process for canceling a regular county commissioner meeting.  There is a requirement that you hold one regular meeting a month, but regular meetings have to be part of a duly adopted regular-meeting schedule.  There is a process for calling a special meeting, but (unlike a regular meeting) when you hold a special meeting, you can ONLY consider those items that you specifically advertise in advance.  So we ended up canceling our meeting that snowy day by informing the local news stations, the local radio station, everyone who was on the agenda and everyone we could think of who usually attended our meetings and by publishing notice of the cancellation on our website.  Our county commissioners also published notice of the cancellation on their Facebook sites.  Then we drafted notice of a special meeting one week later and included in the notice the entire agenda for the meeting.  At the meeting, these items were the only things considered.  In the absence of good statutory guidance, this seemed like the most practical, approach, but given the statutory framework regarding meetings, the approach is not perfect.  I’ve added this to my running list of things to talk to our representative about.  This is something that the General Assembly could easily rectify.  It’s a small issue, and it doesn’t arise that often, but addressing it took half my day and even then, my approach is not perfect.  Needless to say, no bull’s-eyes that day.

While I’ve been typing this blog, three more issues have been brought to my attention via email, one of which is something I’ve never encountered before.  Never.  And five, six, seven years from now when we have to cancel our commissioners meeting for an ice storm, the issue I’ve described in this blog will arise again, and I’ll have only a vague recollection of having encountered it before.  Jack of all trades; Master of none.