Commissioners - Just say no!

October 30, 2008

Keep your eyes open and be prepared to duck if necessary; elsewise you run the risk of being smacked in the puss by the pay-raise hot potato currently flying among County Commissioners with cruise missile-like speed.

"Awkward" is the word they used most often to describe the circumstance that an independent committee has recommended awarding them an $8,000 pay raise at a time when financial stresses have forced many of us to subsist on packets of ketchup retrieved from the glove box of the family car.

Their responses kind of have the ring of, "Aw shucks, a pay raise for li'l ole us? Why we could never accept that in these hard economic times - could we?"

The committee also recommended various assorted pay raises for elected, including one place where it is really needed, the School Board, where actual hobos are discouraged from running for offices because the wages are too low.


The way it works is that the committee hands down its recommendations and the commissioners can accept, reduce or reject the numbers. Then the whole ball of wax is passed along to the state legislature for final action.

The committee said it recommended the substantial hike - from $30,000 to $38,000 and from $33,000 to $41,000 for the commission president - to make the salaries competitive with similar-sized counties.

The thought being, I guess, that some of our guys might be tempted to move to another county and run for commissioner there. (Would anyone have a problem with that?)

As they commented on all the awkwardness and such, I couldn't help but notice that none of the commissioners said they didn't want the money.

To a degree, this is comforting. If someone comes along and offers a person an extra eight grand and he says "no thanks," I might question whether his mind was sound enough to hold public office.

Heck, they might have even taken the offensive. Instead of a pay raise, they could have framed it as "a very selective economic stimulus package."

Still, it might not have been out of line to simply say: "Thank you for the recommendation, but in these times we cannot in good conscience accept a salary increase, therefore we reject the committee's findings."

Or they could have done the time-honored, "I promise to donate this entire pay raise to charity for as long as it takes to make people forget that I have made this promise."

Instead, it looks as if the commissioners may simply pass the recommendations on to the delegation and then look at the lawmakers with sad puppy eyes, imploring them to pass the pay raise - without having to put their own personal names on the line.

Good luck with that.

Our delegation is nothing if not aces at spotting a populist issue it can sink its teeth into, and loudly rejecting pay raises for other elected officials (when raises apply to lawmakers themselves, they are generally more judicious) would seem to be something that is right up its alley.

Personally, I would like to see more of an incentive-driven pay scale. Like, they would earn an extra thousand dollars for every 1 point drop in the county unemployment rate, or for every $1 million they were able to cut out of the county budget. And they would correspondingly lose salary for a rise in the budget or unemployment rates.

Of course, this might mean that they would end up owing us money. That would indeed be "awkward."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at

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