With the May primary less than a week away, we stood ready to leave alone the issue of how our county commissioners reward themselves with pay and benefits, believing enough has been said even if too little has been done.
We did, in a Q&A that was provided to the commissioners, give them the opportunity to explain why they are so entitled, and the answers of two of the incumbents, board Chairman Noah Woods and Commissioner Hubert Sealey, can be found at robesonian.com. Challengers for the county Board of Commissioners were also given the chance to speak on the issue.
You can read all that for yourself, as well as Q&A’s for incumbents and challengers for clerk of Superior Court, state Senate, the Board of Education of the Public Schools of Robeson County and sheriff at robesonian.com. Because of space limitations, the Q&A’s will not appear in our print edition.
Woods and Sealey both defended their pay and benefits by saying that being a county commissioner is a full-time job. Fair enough, but if it is a full-time job in Robeson County, it must be a full-time gig elsewhere as well, so that in itself doesn’t explain the disparity between how our commissioners pay themselves when compared with how commissioners across the state are compensated.
As if reading from the same fictitious script, both Woods and Sealey argued that this newspaper has been wrong in consistently saying our commissioners are among the best paid and benefited in the state, implying that we have exaggerated. They are correct: We were wrong, but we didn’t exaggerate, we actually underplayed their greed.
Our commissioners are essentially the best paid and benefited in North Carolina, running in a dead heat with Durham County. But don’t believe us. We urge you to look for yourself at http://sogpubs.unc.edu/electronicversions/pdfs/cosal2014/mgr.pdf — information that is provided by the North Carolina School of Government following a survey of local governments.
There you will find a list of all 100 counties in North Carolina, and how they pay their commissioners. In Robeson County, our chairman is paid a salary of $18,798 and the other commissioners receive $14,512. When the $8,400 a year stipend is figured in, that pay rises to $27,398 and $22,912. Remember as well that when our commissioners leave Robeson County on business, they file an expense report in addition to their stipend.
Mecklenburg, the state’s largest county based on population, pays its chairman a $30,555 lump salary and commissioners $24,444 each. Wake County, the state’s second largest, pays its chairman a $23,299 lump salary and its commissioners $19,867 each.
Other comparable counties are New Hanover, a total salary and stipend of $28,522 and $20,086, and Durham County, a total salary and stipend of $28,303 and $24,494.
The best comparison might be Sampson County, which is the second largest county in the state behind Robeson County and is also poor and rural. The chairman there is paid a $9,360 salary and a $3,000 stipend, and other commissioners receive a $5,916 salary and the $3,000 stipend. They also each receive $50 for each meeting they attend.
What you won’t find on the School of Government’s website is the benefits the commissioners receive, and that is where Robeson County and Durham run ahead.
Robeson and Durham provide free insurance to their commissioners, easily worth thousands of dollars a year, and have retirement plans. Mecklenburg and New Hanover offer neither.
Robeson County commissioners are the best paid and benefited — or a close second to Durham — even after they jettisoned their perk of free health insurance for their families and their scheme to continue to receive a salary after leaving office, doing both only under the heat of sunlight.
Remember as well that Robeson is much smaller and poorer than Mecklenburg, New Hanover and Durham counties, so it shouldn’t be hanging out in the same upscale salary neighborhood.
We know that our county commissioners won’t be pleased that we shared this information, but we did so only to rebut the false information provided by Woods and Sealey in their Q&A. It’s part of our job to make sure public officials whose pants are on fire are held accountable.