Commissioner payJun 9, 2013 By Steven R. Peck
The members are giving themselves a raise, but the procedure for it is sound
It's always a little awkward when elected officials who control their own budgets also decide to give themselves a raise. The Fremont County Commission is having that experience this spring, but things are being done the right way.
The fiscal year 2014 budget request for county commission operations --prepared by the commissioners and to be approved by the commissioners --calls for pay increases for all five members of the board. As readers know from following the reporting by staff writer Eric Blom, other agencies are likely to see their budgets either frozen or increased only slightly, so a raise for the commissioners is bound to spark some discussion, to say the least.
Those who would criticize ought to note that this has not happened on the spur of the moment. The commission devised, debated and approved the pay increase plan in an open session of the board some years ago. One reason for that procedure was so that commissioners could not be accused of voting themselves a raise immediately. Delaying the effective date of the pay hike increased the likelihood that new commissioners would be seated by the time it kicked in.
In fact, that is just what has happened, with commissioners Stephanie Kessler, Larry Allen and Travis Becker all having been elected to the commission since the pay raise resolution was passed. In other words, the majority of the current commissioners did not vote to give themselves raise.
The commissioner who does his or her job right works hard and has significant responsibilities for a county. Some would describe those responsibilities as enormous. It increasingly has become a full-time job, and the commissioners deserve fair compensation for their work.
If we are dissatisfied with that performance, then the answer is not to pay them insufficiently, but rather to turn them out of office at the ballot box and replace them with commissioners we feel would be more worthy of the salary. Our next chance to do that comes in 2014 if we so choose.
Another possibility made possible by the delayed onset of the pay plan is that the commissioners could vote to repeal it before it takes effect. They didn't do that this time around, but it is worth recalling that the commissioners did lower their pay some years ago, and it only now is being restored to a level approximating its previous rate.
One of the discomforts of holding public office is having your compensation known by all who want to see. Lists of salaries are published in our newspaper --by law --every year. There is no way the commission can hide its action on compensation, which is another check on irresponsible pay schedules. The current plan is anything but that, thanks both to accountability made possible by public scrutiny and by the naturally conservative bent of our commission through they years. The commissioners are paid fairly, but by no means extravagantly.
Some have suggested that any pay raise for public officials be subject to approval by voters at the ballot box. That happens already. Commission performance is subject to approval by voters in every facet of the job, including this one. Adequate pay helps ensure good candidates will seek the office, and it provides added incentive for our commissioners to give their best.
Through a moderate and slow-paced procedure, our commissioners are getting a raise. Let's make sure they earn it.