Kalamazoo County hires new attorney as corporation counsel

KALAMAZOO, MI — Nearly two years after the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners fired its previous head attorney, the county has selected a new attorney to hire.

On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the board of commissioners voted to approve a three-year employment agreement for Angelina Barnes, effective Oct. 11, as corporation counsel. The base salary for the position is $123,884.80, Kalamazoo County Administrator Kevin Catlin told MLive/Kalamazoo Gazette.

Barnes is currently an attorney at Auto Owners Insurance, where she provides legal advice in the areas of human resources, employment law, life insurance, contracts, first- and third-party property damage, and bodily injury claims, Catlin said.

In this new position, Barnes is tasked with providing legal advice to different county departments, and also attends commission meetings to answer questions from elected officials and provide other advice or input.

The hiring is “long overdue,” Catlin said, and he and others at the county are excited to work with Barnes.

In 2019, Kalamazoo County commissioners unanimously voted to fire Elizabeth White, who was their corporate counsel. In the interim, the county has been represented by an outside law firm, which means different attorneys would work together as a team to help represent the county and provide legal services.

Catlin said the hiring a replacement for White was a priority for him as he started his position as administrator earlier this year.

On Nov. 6, 2019, commissioners declined to say why they fired White. However, White filed a federal lawsuit that Nov. 13, alleging violations of the Whistleblower’s Protection Act, wrongful discharge, breach of contract and violations of the Open Meetings Act. The county said the lawsuit had “no merit.” But after a yearlong negotiation, White settled for $300,000, according to a court document

Barnes has a variety of professional experience in the public and private sectors, Catlin said.

Catlin said Barnes previously worked for the state of Minnesota as a statewide director of internal control and accountability for the state. He also said she was the executive director of the Minnesota Board of Psychology, and has served as an assistant attorney general with the state of Minnesota Office of the Attorney General.

“When they hired me, my goal was to provide stability to the organization,” said Catlin, who was hired in March. “For me, having a proactive and stable legal counsel is very essential to the work that we do here. I believe that hiring Angelina, she’ll be able to provide some stability and some competence in how we pursue our civil litigation here in the county.”

Six people applied for the position, and the board chose three people to interview. One person withdrew their name for consideration, and the board interviewed Barnes and another candidate, Catlin said.

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