The county commissioners on Monday night will see for themselves what we have been telling them for months — that the way they are paid and benefited is exorbitant, and it’s really not even close.
County Manager Ricky Harris has completed his assignment, which was to gather information on pay and benefits from comparable counties so the commissioners could compare apples to apples, and we are confident his information will match ours because we know he did the survey ably and honestly.
In some cases, however, there are no apples for the comparison. We can tell you commissioners in other counties don’t have discretionary funds to pluck as they please, certainly not to the scale of $320,000 a year, their families don’t get free health benefits, and they don’t get retirement. And when the salaries and stipends are compared, it will show that our commissioners should have voted for Romney.
All this in one of the poorest counties in the state, where a significant population depends on welfare, and one that is forced to tax its property owners heavily, putting up a caution sign to professionals and industries giving us a hard look.
The question now is whether the commissioners will roll back their benefits and, assuming that happens, how far will they go. They took a huge first step in quickly dispensing with a deferred compensation plan once it was made public that was nothing more than unarmed robbery.
We don’t expect any action on Monday night, but perhaps there will be some conversation; should that occur, it needs to be in open session, and not behind closed doors, which is where their pay and stipend have steadily grown and the benefits have been hatched. Their current compensation could never have climbed so high under the heat of the sunlight that an open discussion provides, which explains the retreat into darkness.
We will remind the commissioners of their chairman’s own words in August.
“I know that in the future we are going to make sure that the people know what is going on,” Noah Woods said. “From now on, everything will be out on the table.”
The future is now — and we stubbornly cling to our belief that the commissioners will do the right thing, some because they are honorable, and others because they would be outvoted.
Four of them, Woods, Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine and David Edge, have acknowledged publicly that they know there is a problem, so there could be no excuse in not fixing it. Commissioners Raymond Cummings and Jerry Stephens no longer return our phone calls, and Lance Herndon could not be reached for a story on A1 today. Commissioner Hubert Sealey’s comment in today’s story was interesting as he suggested he would do what the board wants to do, so he seems prepared to follow, not lead.
Leadership is what is needed now, because the commissioners, should they do the right thing, will lose a lot — in salary, benefits and in their ability to dish out dollars to the folks who elect them. The alternative is to continue the conversation.