Today is Monday, July 24, 2017

WC Commissioners double their pay, cut taxpayers to the quick

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Wilson County Commissioners voted last week to increase their own pay from $400 a month to $800 a month by a vote of 16-6 with three commissioners absent.

The vote takes effect retroactively, meaning commissioners will be paid twice as much as they were beginning with July 1.

And what will come from that in return? Nothing more for sure. Just the same service they have always been giving.

Let's put that number in perspective: that is an increase of $4,800 a year per commissioner multiplied by 25 districts, which totals a $120,000 per year increase in commission salaries.

How far could $120,000 go in other departments, not to mention it's a recurring increase that could grow year over year.

Here's another perspective: commissioners made $4,800 per year up until this year, but after the increase, each commissioner will make $9,600 for their "public service."

Public service is a funny term when talking about pay raises of 100 percent. When was the last time another county employee, teacher, sheriff's deputy, fireman or other public servant received a 100-percent raise? Would this commission balk at that thought of doubling the salary of our school teachers and emergency personnel?

Work in the private sector? Try asking your boss to double your salary, and let us know how that goes.

But several voters and employees who never received more than a 10-percent raise in one year think commissioners' actions are outrageous. Many of these county employees would love a three- or four-percent raise.

Commissioners justified the 100-percent raise by comparing what they get to Mt. Juliet and other surrounding commissioners. Sounds a lot like when a child would say, "But everybody else gets one." Mom always had a response for that one.

We understand comparing the commissioners' salaries to that of a teacher or first responder is like comparing apples to oranges, but commissioners aren't the only ones who were underpaid in comparison to their peers locally. Take a look at the teachers, EMTs and dispatchers who are leaving our county to work in neighboring Sumner, Rutherford or Davidson counties because of the increase in pay that they are guaranteed. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

This is public money, and the six commissioners who voted against the raises should be commended. They are Chad Barnard (District 4), Jerry McFarland (District 5), Diane Weathers (District 16), Cindy Brown (District 21), Sue Vanatta (District 23) and Joy Bishop (District 24).

But in fairness, here are some points to consider.

Likely our commissioners do deserve a raise since have not had one for nine years, but the key point is they decided to become public servants because they felt they could help lead the county; it should not be about the money.

They could have timed the pay raise better, or at least done more to let the voters know what they were doing and why. That said, it seems reasonable that county commissioners should get a stipend similar to others doing the same type of service, such as city councilors or commissioners receive.

Mt. Juliet commissioners get $900 per month, and Lebanon council gets $630 and will go to $750 after the next election - maybe the county commission should have done the same, reserving the raise for commissioners who come into office after the next election.

Also, most of the county commissioners work a lot more than the two or three hours they spend attending the once-a-month meeting. They serve on four to seven or more committees, go to workshops and attend other related meetings such as planning or school board. They take calls from constituents and try to help solve their problems.

They are also expected to study the agenda items in advance of the meetings. At best estimate, they probably average from 30 to 60 hours a month. Call it 45, and you end up with commissioners under the old pay schedule making less than $9 per hour.

What could they have done instead?

They could have showed some true leadership with a bit more wisdom and humility and maybe kept their raise to a more modest 20 percent or so and then gradually increased their pay over the next few years.

They could have made the pay increases take effect during the next term rather than retroactively applying it to their own wallets, preventing a conflict of interest.

They could have discussed the proposal in more open terms and heard from their constituents rather than approving the raise without much public discussion.

They could have voted to make their meetings more widely available by recording and posting them online. Instead, this same commission split a motion 11-11 to videotape and post their meetings online. Instead of sending it back to committee for more amendments, the split vote was the outcome, and the plan died.

It's not too late to make our government more open and transparent.

And Mom had another saying: it's never too late to do the right thing.

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