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Jackson commissioners consider county attorney applicants

Jackson County got plenty of response back when its new board of commissioners put out the word that they were taking applications for the county attorney position. 

Eight attorneys sent their resumes in for the gig, which is currently held by former commissioner Jay Coward of Coward, Hicks & Siler. Three of the applicants are from the same firm, Earwood, Moore, Carpenter & Guy, PLLC.

“Number wise, I thought there might be a few more attorneys, but the people who have responded I think are highly qualified,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten. “All have some direct — or, certainly, indirect — experience in local government and I think could serve in the capacity of county attorney.”

Commissioners decided to put out a request for applicants last month after the newly elected board members took their seats. The election ended with two upsets, flipping the board to a 4-to-1 Democratic majority. 

The new board decided to conduct its own search for a county attorney. Though the board is now composed mostly of Democrats and Coward is a Republican, Coward said he doesn’t think politics has anything to do with the call for applications. 

“They felt like if there was more than one person interested they should put it out there,” Coward told The Smoky Mountain News last month when commissioners initiated the search. 

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That said, the county attorney search is new ground for the county, Wooten pointed out. 

“I think it’s a learning opportunity for everybody as we move through this,” he said. “Always in the past incoming boards have had in mind who they would prefer as attorneys, so this is a different approach than we’ve had before.”

Commissioners are scheduled to talk about the applications at their Jan. 8 meeting and will then likely choose a subset of the applicants to interview more closely. Wooten expects them to make a decision by their Jan. 29 meeting. 

The attorney will be selected based on qualifications, with fees negotiated after the selection is made. However, most of the attorneys said on their applications that they’d expect something similar to Coward’s current fee of $200 an hour. For a successful attorney, that’s likely a discounted rate from the typical charge. 

“We’ve got a good pool,” Wooten said.

Who applied?

The following attorneys hope to get the nod to be the next county attorney for Jackson County:

• Kimberly Carpenter of Earwood, Moore, Carpenter & Guy, PLLC

• Jay Coward Jr. (current county attorney) of Coward, Hicks & Siler, P.A

• Michael Eagan, J.D., M.A.

• Agatha Guy of Earwood, Moore, Carpenter & Guy, PLLC

• Paul Holt Jr., P.A.

• Gary Miller, Attorney at Law

• David Moore of Earwood, Moore, Carpenter & Guy, PLLC

• James Moore Jr., Attorney at Law

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