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Berkeley commission's pay decision questioned

June 07, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Commission's decisions this week to give the county's human resources director an $18,000 pay raise and increase staffing have angered the county's other elected officers who have agreed to a hiring freeze and budget cuts amid an economic downturn.

"We are angry that we were flat-out lied to," Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely said Friday after she sent the commissioners a strongly worded letter urging them to reverse course.

"You are dangerously close to issues which will cause me to have to react under my statutory and constitutional mandate," Games-Neely said in her letter. "I strongly suggest that you reconsider your positions immediately."

On Thursday, the commission voted unanimously to increase Alan J. Davis' salary to $84,019 effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year in concert with giving him the title of deputy county administrator.

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Games-Neely said the position wasn't advertised, and declined to comment on whether she thought that complied with the law.

County Commission President Steven C. Teufel said Friday that he and his fellow commissioners didn't lie to the other constitutional officers about anything.

"All we did was reorganize our office," said Teufel, who was upset to hear about Games-Neely's letter.

In addition to increasing Davis' salary, the commission created two administrative assistant jobs and a part-time grants coordinator. The net increase in spending on commission office staffing was $33,327. The reorganization also factored in the retirement of one employee announced Thursday and the elimination of a temporary worker.

The commission's staffing changes come less than a year after the commission hired an in-house legal counsel in July 2007 at a salary of $108,000 and an information technology director with an $82,000 salary in September.

"I don't care whether it's a dime, nickel or a dollar," Games-Neely said. "You can't afford it."

Sheriff W. Randy Smith, who has six deputy vacancies in his law enforcement division and several more unfilled administrative and tax office positions, also was upset.

"It's kind of a slap in the face," Smith said. "It's unfair to the rank and file."

County Clerk John W. Small Jr. agreed with Assessor Preston B. Gooden's assessment Friday that the commission's staffing moves appear to continue to violate the state constitution. According to state code, Small's office is the "Clerk of the County Court," now known as the county commission.

"They've been taking things and been wanting to do it themselves," Small said of the commission's staffing moves. "They seem to be power hungry."

Gooden, who successfully challenged the constitutionality of Davis' countywide compensation plan earlier this year, questioned the legality of the staffing and others in the commission's office, including the county administrator position.

"If everybody does their (elected job), then everything runs smooth," Gooden said.

Teufel said Thursday that Davis' raise was justified because "he's taken on some monumental tasks and he's been able to produce."

Teufel confirmed the pay increase was the only raise they approved Thursday, and believed the commission's staff reconfiguration, primarily a project of Commissioners William L. "Bill" Stubblefield and Ronald K. Collins, had been in the works for some time.

Stubblefield said Friday that he has tried very hard to be "honest and up front" with the other elected officers, and that the staffing changes stayed within the commission's commitment to reduce its budget for next year by 5 percent.

"They weren't lied to about anything," Stubblefield said.

On Thursday, Stubblefield said the hiring of a grant writer/coordinator was intended to help other elected officials obtain more funding awards and maintain others already received.

"It's a benefit countywide," Stubblefield said.

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