JEFFERSON, NC (WBTV) - Ashe County Sheriff Terry Buchanan hired an attorney to assist in fulfilling a public records request submitted by WBTV in April without the commissioners knowledge.
Records obtained by WBTV show Buchanan hired attorney Stacy Eggers, IV of the law firm Eggers, Eggers, Eggers and Eggers in Boone.
It is not clear what the scope of Eggers work for Buchanan is—whether he is representing the sheriff in his individual capacity as sheriff or doing work for the Ashe County Sheriff's Office—nor what rate taxpayers are paying for Eggers' services because there is not a contract or engagement letter outlining the legal arrangement, which is standard when attorneys are hired for legal services.
An invoice dated June 1, 2017, from Eggers is addressed to Terry Buchanan at the Ashe County Sheriff's Office.
According to the invoice, Eggers has billed county taxpayers $490 for legal services.
WBTV has confirmed that Buchanan hired an attorney using taxpayer dollars without notifying or seeking authorization from the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.
In an email, County Manager Sam Yearick said Buchanan was not required to seek authorization before hiring an attorney with taxpayer money.
"Paying our contract attorney or an outside attorney to review the texts for your records request is a public purpose," Yearick said. "There is no requirement to notify or gain additional board approval for an expenditure that is already in the current budget."
But Yearick was not clear on where the county's budget appropriated money for the sheriff to hire an attorney.
"In this case, the legal fees associated with your records request will, I assume, be paid from one of our many professional services line items," he said.
Ashe County Commission Chairman William Sands, however, said Buchanan should have sought approval to spend county money on an attorney.
"I don't agree with that, I don't," Sands said of Yearick's explanation for why Buchanan could hire an attorney without additional approval.
"And, so far, the last I checked with our financial person, nothing has been paid," Sands said.
As of Thursday, both the county and the sheriff's office had yet to produce a number of items to WBTV in response to its request.
In a letter sent to county officials on Thursday afternoon, an attorney for WBTV requested the county produce the outstanding records or face a lawsuit.
The county had not responded to the latest letter from WBTV's attorneys as of late Thursday afternoon.