COVINGTON — Commissioner John Douglas said he would bring up the pending salary increase for commissioners Tuesday night, making a motion that would require them to vote on a pay raise versus it being automatically tied to the sheriff’s salary, which increases once certain population thresholds are reached.
Instead, he made a motion to indefinitely postpone the matter, which was approved unanimously by the board. Commissioner Nancy Schulz was absent. After the meeting, Douglas issued a statement to the media, reading in part: “I have tried repeatedly both in public and behind the scenes to stop the ill-advised and unnecessary pay raise, but to no avail. In spite of my best efforts and reasons, there was no support among the other commissioners to halt this backdoor hike. While this is not a large increase, the principle stands tall that we should NOT get ANY pay raise while our employees have suffered five years with no pay raises and numerous furlough days and we all continue to endure a never ending recession.”
In a follow-up interview, Douglas said he talked with his fellow commissioners “and it was clear from the information that came out that they all had plans on how to use their pay raises.” Douglas said while some commissioners planned to donate their raises to the general fund, it would be simpler not to have the raises at all.
Commissioners Lanier Sims, Nancy Schulz and J.C. Henderson said they have not spoken with Douglas about the issue. Douglas later clarified that he spoke only with Commissioner Levie Maddox and Chairman Keith Ellis.
“I was told through a third party none of the others would support stopping the pay raise and none approached me to support my efforts,” Douglas said.
Maddox could not be reached for comment.
It’s not yet clear whether Ellis would also get a raise, but he said if he does, he will not accept it. Sims and Schulz said they will donate their pay increase to the general fund, while Henderson said he will accept his due to the cost of gas for his personal vehicle that he uses on county business.
Sims previously told the Citizen that he agrees with the current system, approved by the 2001 Board of Commissioners, tying their pay to the sheriff’s salary. Sims said he agrees with Douglas’ comments about county employees and agrees commissioners shouldn’t accept the raise, but he wants pay to be tied to the sheriff’s salary to prevent commissioners from controlling their own salaries.
“I don’t agree with all this grandstanding on this one topic, and I really believe we should be focused on our strategic planning. How are we going to get this county on track so we can get this (millage rate) down to what it was? I don’t believe these efforts help us in any way in working together to achieve those goals,” he said.
Schulz reiterated that she would not accept a pay raise until county employees have all furlough days restored, and she’s kept her commitment to engage in strategic planning to reduce the millage rate within two years.
“I don’t appreciate playing politics with this. This is a situation where all of us have agreed; the public is very clear on our intent. John is trying to drive a wedge down there because I’ve made it very clear what I intend to do with my increase,” she said.
Henderson said commissioners’ raises will not have nearly the impact of the constitutional officers’ pay increases. “I like John. He’s a good friend. He hasn’t said nothing to me about it,” Henderson said.
Douglas, who made the motion to indefinitely postpone the pay raise discussion, said of the commissioners who approved his motion, “the three other commissioners present Tuesday night voted not to take any action on the raise thereby giving it a backdoor green light.”
Douglas said he would donate his pay increase to his church.
In April, DCA published updated Census numbers for Newton, putting its population at 101,505 and pushing it into another population bracket. That triggered an automatic pay increase for constitutional officers. Commissioners’ salaries are set at 20 percent of the sheriff’s base salary. Since the sheriff’s salary will be increasing, that means an automatic salary increase for commissioners. A press release issued recently by the chairman’s office stated the increase would be $42.87 per month, or about $514 more per year.
It’s not yet clear when the pay raise will be effective.
The Citizen is gathering information on constitutional officers’ pay increase and will publish a story in a future edition.