When elected officials vote themselves a pay raise, it concerns everyone – everyone, of course, except the elected officials who will benefit from the raise. We all would love to have the opportunity to VOTE ourselves a raise when WE determine we should get one.
The Augusta Commissioners have put themselves in that situation right now. They have, for the most part, given preliminary approval to a sizable pay raise for the mayor and all of the commissioners — a raise to the tune of about 300%. The question that is being debated in our community is: IS THE RAISE JUSTIFIABLE, and should the commission members use their authority to make the raise official with their VOTE and Legislature approval?
When Charles Walker worked to have our government consolidated, times were a lot different. The commission was made up of truly concerned citizens (I believe not concerned about money). A paid executive city administrator and a ceremonial mayor. A perfunctory weekly meeting and the occasional ceremonial ribbon-cutting, not much more – but that’s all changed.
The bi-monthly meetings have become long-winded AGENDA PROTECTING sessions. The only thing that has shortened the meetings in the last few months is the fact that Marion Williams is no longer up there. We all can recall how the meetings would go on – anytime he had anything to say and would not stop talking, even when he was gaveled to stop.
Now, on top of the fact that they have their regularly scheduled meetings, they also have community meetings to attend, unplanned citizen action meetings to know about and phones ringing late into the midnight hour. Add all those things up and, in addition, the fact that some of them like to get into the administrator’s business — now you have a full-time job, created, SOME SAY, on their own.
Being a commissioner and mayor in Augusta has become a serious undertaking. Taking into consideration that our population has grown and our communities are thriving, add in Augusta becoming potentially the Cyber Capital of the World — we certainly are in need of a mayor and commissioners who are qualified, dedicated and passionate about our community. So, if the commissioners are OK with getting more work, then we should be OK with giving them more compensation, but NOT just because they think so and without community discussion.
A good friend of mine says that if we pay more we will get a better-qualified candidate. I refute that comment! I believe we should have great, qualified people, no matter what the pay is, because they KNOW the salary and duties before they offer themselves for the office. Most want to run because of their love for the community. That should be enough to have great people run, regardless of the salary.
Look at some of our neighboring counties that pay less – actually way less. And if you ask most of our community, they’ll say the other counties have a better quality of candidate. They have doctors, lawyers, engineers, business people – and what do we have? Preachers, teachers, and jobless – did I mention we have preachers?
So here we are with the painstaking fact that now they want raises, The county commission is looking for big raises, in some cases three times what they currently make — in a community where the median income is about $20,000. Having a county commissioner making twice that may give some people heartburn, but couple that with us being in the midst of a pandemic and our normal revenue not being where it usually is – we will just say the raise request is bad timing.
Now, understand this — I am not against the raises. I question how to arrive at a PROPER salary level. I just want to make sure we are do not have to try to institute another raise in two years or five years when we might wake up and realize the commissioners are still not getting enough (or too much) money for the amount of work they do.
So, with that being said – here is a novel idea or suggestion: We should hold special public hearings on this specific matter. I think the community should have an opportunity to tell the commissioners what they would like to see done without having to listen to the commissioners for a change. ( I do have one request – make Marion and Fennoy come back just to listen.)
Think about it. For the most part, the only time the community gets to weigh in on the commissioners’ performance is on election day. If the public doesn’t have an opportunity to address the body, essentially the commission could give themselves a raise every year until they leave.
Finally, whatever the outcome – I do not believe raises should go into effect until a new commissioner is in the seat. I believe the current commission should stay at the salary level in effect when they were elected. This way, it does not seem as if they are giving themselves a raise. It would be to their advantage and at least make them seem as if they are really about the community. Truth be told – SOME REALLY believe that the commission salary for our community is way too low for the amount of work commissioners do. The problem is, just like everything else in our town… we may have waited too long to solve a problem that should have been rectified a long time ago. REMINDS me of the Infrastructure NEGLECT in South Augusta.
Oops, that’s story for another day.