An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that House Speaker Tim Moore and Cleveland County Commission Chairman Jason Falls are first cousins. The two are first cousins, once removed, according to Moore.
House Speaker Tim Moore’s appointment as the county attorney for Cleveland County has prompted an angry response from the man he replaced.
Moore, the first-term Republican speaker and a lawyer, was hired last month to advise the Cleveland County commissioners during their twice-monthly meetings and to represent the county in any legal action. His contract calls for him to receive a $25,000 annual retainer and $250 per hour he spends working for the county.
Longtime county attorney Bob Yelton said in a letter to county commissioners that his 32 years of service in the position ended with little notice. He said Moore will be paid more than he received, and that the speaker’s Raleigh duties could burden a newly hired assistant.
The letter was first made public by local blogger Robert A. Williams. Yelton confirmed to the News & Observer that he wrote and sent the letter.
Yelton’s letter said he was told that Moore “had been trying hard for at least six months to get the county attorney position.” Commissioners Chairman Jason Falls, however, says the commissioners started the talks with Moore about the job.
“The commissioners reached out to Tim,” Falls said. “He’s well-known in our community. He’s a known quantity. We felt that he would be a good fit.”
Moore is related to Falls; they are first cousins, once removed. Falls said this week that he didn’t recuse himself from the hiring process because he doesn’t see that relationship as a conflict of interest.
“It’s not a close family relationship,” Falls said. “It’s not something that anybody would see as a conflict.”
State ethics laws define familial conflicts as those actions taken – in this case, by commissioners – that directly benefit the public official or the official’s spouse.
Falls has said terms of Moore’s contract are similar to the arrangement the county had with Yelton.
Yelton, however, says Moore is getting paid more: the former attorney’s annual retainer was $23,760 plus an hourly rate of $220.
“Is this in the best interest of the taxpayers of Cleveland County?” Yelton said in his letter.
About a month before Moore was hired, county commissioners hired the county’s first full-time attorney. Andrea Leslie-Fite – formerly part of Yelton’s firm – now holds the title of assistant county attorney. Yelton says her workload could become bigger than she’d expected.
“I fear that Speaker Moore, with his busy schedule and lack of knowledge concerning county government, will dump all of the county attorney work on Andrea,” Yelton wrote. “This is indeed unfortunate.”
Falls said the decision to create the full-time job was unrelated to hiring Moore. He said he expects the new position will save the county money because Moore won’t work as many hours as Yelton did.
“That staff attorney is taking the lion’s share of the work that our past county attorney did,” Falls said.
Falls said the decision to replace Yelton was because the board “wanted to go in a different direction.”
“It was not our intent to be a negative reflection on Mr. Yelton ... and we wish him the best,” he said.
Moore’s contract requires him to attend the board’s meetings, which take place on Tuesday evenings twice a month. He’s said he’ll “try to be at as many of those meetings as I can,” even when he presides over the House earlier the same day.