Friday, August 19, 2022

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Commissioners interview, and apparently select, new candidate for county attorney

Alamance County’s commissioners have found a new contender to serve as their county attorney, replacing the Virginia-based lawyer whom they had originally tapped for this vacant, staff-level post but subsequently withdrew.

The Alamance News has learned that, over the past couple of weeks, a majority of the commissioners have gravitated toward the selection of James Richard “Rik” Stevens – a Greensboro lawyer whose latest assignments include a stint as a legal advisor for Chatham County’s sheriff.

James Richard “Rik” Stevens

Although Stevens apparently wasn’t among the original applicants for Alamance County’s vacant attorney’s position, he nevertheless emerged as a candidate after the unexpected about-face of Tripp Isenhour, who had been the commissioners’ initial choice to take over the county’s legal department.
According to county commissioner Bill Lashley, most, if not all, of the commissioners have been impressed by the eclectic work experience that Stevens promises to bring to the legal department.

“His credentials are impeccable,” Lashely added in an interview Tuesday. “He has been everything from an EMT to a police officer. And he’s also a lawyer.”

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The position that Stevens has been tentatively selected to fill initially became vacant when the commissioners decided to sack their previous county attorney Clyde Albright during a closed-door meeting in early October. Two days after their confidential powwow, Lashely personally broke the news to Albright. It wasn’t until the following Monday, however, that the full board of commissioners officially approved Albright’s dismissal in a belated attempt to comply with a state statutory requirement that obligates elected officials to publicly affirm personnel-related decisions they initially make behind closed doors.

After Albright’s departure, the commissioners embarked on a search for a new county attorney under the guidance of their interim legal counsel Debra Bechtel. This process ultimately led to Isenhour’s selection as Albright’s successor in March.

A private attorney based in Lynchburg Virginia, Isenhour initially agreed to join Alamance County’s legal staff with a starting salary of $140,000 – or nearly $11,000 more than Albright had been taking home before his abrupt termination. Isenhour had been scheduled to begin his new job on July 1 – assuming that he, first, met the requirements to obtain licensure in North Carolina. But with less than two months to go before his official start date, the incoming county attorney notified his would-be employers that he would not, in fact, be working for them after all.

Isenhour’s sudden change of heart left the commissioners scrambling to find another qualified contender to serve county attorney. Even so, the commissioners have yet to convene any additional meetings about the position – whether of the closed-door variety or those open to the general public.

Lashley told The Alamance News that, even in the absence of any formal discussions, he and his colleagues have still managed to get better acquainted with Stevens since he added his name to the candidate pool.

Lashey recalled that, in recent weeks, each of the commissioners has interviewed Stevens individually or in small groups – which he said has allowed them to skirt the legal requirement for properly noticed closed sessions of the full board of commissioners. Lashley added that these informal chats led to a consensus in favor of Stevens – which he said became clear to Bechtel when she followed up with each commissioner after the interviews.

Based on what the newspaper has been able to glean from publicly-available information, Stevens graduated from George Washington University in 2004 and later obtained his law degree from N.C. Central University in 2012.  He subsequently went on to receive a masters degree in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2020.

In the midst of his studies, Stevens spent some 13½ years working at the office of Guilford County’s sheriff – where he served as both a sheriff’s deputy and an agency lawyer under the administration of Guilford County’s former sheriff B.J. Barnes.

Since February of 2019, Stevens has served as a legal advisor for the office of Chatham County’s sheriff.

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