By Kathi Bliss
Citing an unfair methodology in a recent salary survey, three Caldwell County elected officials approached a committee this week asking for an additional pay increase.
According to testimony presented Monday evening by Caldwell County District Clerk Tina Morgan, County Clerk Carol Holcomb and County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa, the county’s human resources department used different standards to determine the salary increase for employees than they used to determine the pay scale for elected officials. Those standards, they said, should have been applied evenly to the elected positions in which the elected officials serve as full-time employees.
Unlike officials in some positions, the trio said, the jobs of County Clerk, District Clerk and County Treasurer are essentially full-time jobs, which do not allow the elected officials the opportunity to have “outside jobs;” county commissioners and other elected officials can, in some cases, work jobs in addition to their elected service.
“We can’t travel to surrounding counties and take those jobs, like regular employees can, because we don’t live in those counties,” Morgan said. “But there shouldn’t be one set of rules for us, and one set for everyone else.”
The question was raised after the salary survey was presented to the Commissioners Court last month. That survey analyzed salaries from counties within a commuting distance for employees, but compared elected official salaries to 36 other counties statewide with comparable populations and demographics.
That methodology is unfair, they said, because although they cannot hold elected positions in other counties, they could easily take jobs in the surrounding counties for higher pay; employees leaving for surrounding organizations for a higher rate of pay was the catalyst behind the Commissioners’ desire to have the salary survey performed in the first place.
Morgan, Holcomb and Rangel-Pompa presented their case to a nine-member panel of citizens and elected officials in a state-mandated grievance process. While each of the three was slated for a pay increase in the coming budget, each suggested the increase should be slightly higher, keeping in line with the county’s five-year plan to raise all employee salaries.
During this budget year, each earned a salary of $34,194. In addition, County Judge Tom Bonn, who chairs the grievance committee but is not a voting member, reminded the panel that the county’s benefits package is valued at nearly $6,600.
Bonn also suggested the women’s logic might be flawed.
“I’m not sure you could go across the county line and get a job,” he told Holcomb. “I’m not taking anything away from your work or your abilities, but I’m not sure it’s that easy.”
Bonn also expressed concern that the three individuals who had filed salary grievances were voting members of the committee.
Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector Debra French said she was worried about the grievance process because she did not want future Courts or committees to be “stuck with” the decision the committee made on Monday evening.
A unanimous vote of the panel would have required the Commissioners’ Court to add the requested salary amounts to the 2012-2013 budget slated for approval on Thursday morning.
The proposed salary for Morgan initially spelled out by that budget sets her salary at $38,291. Her request would move that salary for the coming year to $39,784.75.
Rangel-Pompa’s proposed salary was $38,143. Her request was $39,230.31. Holcomb showed a proposed salary of $38,258, and requested $39,661.78.
Morgan pointed out, during her presentation, that each of the grieving parties has a long-standing employment history with the County, and reminded panel members that some more recent county employees will be receiving raises upwards of $10,000 this year.
Bonn quickly rejoined that the issue of other employee pay increases was not relevant to the grievance process, and said Morgan should, “stop bringing it up.”
Each of the grievances were voted independently, with most of the committee members – Morgan, Holcomb, Rangel-Pompa, District Attorney Trey Hicks, Sheriff Daniel Law, and three citizen members – voting in favor of raising the salaries to the grieved amounts in a roll-call vote.
Though she did not offer detailed explanations for her votes, French voted against all three grieved amounts. Because the vote rested at 8-1, the Court must “consider” the recommendation, but is not required to approve it.
The 2012-2013 Fiscal Year budget is to be presented in its final form for a vote by the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30.