Public service isn’t about grabbing a second income

Here’s a sentence we have never written before: An elected board in Robeson County is shortchanging itself when it comes to pay.

But perhaps not for much longer.

There is legislation in the General Assembly that is advancing and should have no trouble becoming law that would allow the Red Springs Board of Commissioners to revisit how the mayor and commissioner are compensated.

Currently the mayor is paid a flat salary of $100 a month, and commissioners each are paid $10 a meeting and $50 a year for travel. It is hard to track such things precisely, but we are told that has been the compensation for a very long time.

In 2013, shortly after reporting by this newspaper uncovered the truth that our county commissioners are the best paid and benefitted in North Carolina, we decided to take a look at how all of the locally elected boards were paid, to include the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County as well as the municipal governments of Fairmont, Lumberton, Maxton, Pembroke, Red Springs, Rowland and St. Pauls.

Our story began: “It doesn’t pay to be a Red Springs commissioner. Well, not much.”

It still doesn’t, apparently, and we doubt that will change significantly.

What we found in 2013 was that local boards paid themselves much differently but none outrageously, except perhaps for Maxton, where the commissioners each received $3,600 a year and the mayor $7,200, which seemed high for a town that size.

We did the look-see because we were curious to see if the same greed that existed on our Board of Commissioners existed on the school board and municipal boards. We were glad to see that, for the most part, it didn’t.

It’s been five years since we looked, so compensation might have changed on some boards, and now seems a good time to revisit that question.

It wasn’t reported at the time, and has been mentioned rarely in the interim, but this newspaper in 2012 attempted to work with the commissioners, promising to limit coverage and editorial criticism if the pay and benefits were rolled back to be in line with the pay and benefits provided in counties of similar size and wealth across North Carolina.

We met privately with Noah Woods, then chairman, and later with Roger Oxendine, and were told that would happen. It never did, with the only real rollback being the disappearance of the free health care for commissioners’ families, a perk that was enjoyed while county employees paid in excess of $300 a month for the same. It went poof shortly after we reported it.

So there is a boundary for these commissioners’ hubris and greed.

Red Springs Mayor Ed Henderson told this newspaper that he and the town commissioners have no interest in raiding the cookie jar, and we will trust them on that. Instead, their intent is to look at what municipalities of similar size provide in terms of compensation and, as Henderson said, land not at the top or the bottom, but somewhere in the middle.

That is all this newspaper has ever asked from our county commissioners, that they bring their pay and benefits in line with the rest of the state, which probably could be managed by having an independent contractor take a look and make a recommendation. Five votes would be needed and we don’t see them on this board currently.

We’ve always believed, perhaps naively, that public service was about just that, serving the public, a noble call often answered by those with the intellect and energy to effect positive change in their communities — and not trying to parlay a position into a second income.

That clearly has been Red Springs’ history, and we believe will be its future as well.