Rob Douglas: It’s time to set county salaries locally

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As reported this week by the Steamboat Today, the Colorado Legislature is considering a resolution that could eventually remove legal authority for determining the salaries of elected county officials from the Legislature and transfer it to each county’s board of commissioners.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

That’s a change Coloradans should support and encourage.

According to the article, “A Senate resolution now being considered would ask voters to amend the state constitution to allow counties to establish their own salaries for elected county officials. It would direct the general assembly to mandate the creation of citizens’ commissions in each county for the purpose of evaluating the salaries of elected county officers biennially and making recommendations to the county commissioners. In addition to county commissioners, clerks and sheriffs, it would include treasurers, assessors, coroners and surveyors.”

As drafted, the preamble to the resolution provides the following points as rationale for the potential constitutional amendment.

• The salary amounts of county officers are infrequently modified and are often insufficient compensation for the work performed by those officers.

• Inadequate compensation is unfair and is a deterrent to those who would otherwise seek to serve as county officials.

• The categorical approach currently mandated disregards the individual characteristics of counties, including economic conditions, and other relevant factors.

• The unique characteristics of Colorado's counties make county officer compensation a matter best suited to local, not state, control.

In an email provided to the Steamboat Today by Routt County Commission Chairman Tim Corrigan, Teak J. Simonton, the chairwoman of the State Salary Commission, outlined several additional aspects of the resolution, including:

• “Increases for each type of elected position would be different, but in all cases, the flexibility would be completely controlled within each county.”

• “The process by which salaries would be set would include a recommendation from a bi-partisan citizens’ commission in each county.”

• “Each county could develop a transparent approach involving the citizenry in open public meetings.”

• “Economically strapped counties would not be required to make any salary increases at all.”

It’s also important to note that the resolution in support of the constitutional amendment prohibits county commissioners from altering their own compensation for the term they are currently fulfilling.

In sum, short of establishing the salaries of elected county officers by a majority vote of the county electorate, the resolution provides the most control to local residents possible. And while amendments to the state constitution should be closely scrutinized to ensure they clear a high threshold of demonstrable need, it’s hard to find enough fault within the resolution to warrant it being derailed by the Legislature.

Arguably, the resolution makes perfect sense.

Given the specific circumstances and demands that may be present in one county but not another, the residents of each county are far better positioned to evaluate and influence the appropriate compensation for their county officers than is the state Legislature. Plus, if control over salaries moves to the local level, residents will be more likely to examine the job requirements of their elected representatives.

For example, here in Routt County, the mandated citizens’ commission might find that the job demands of the sheriff, treasurer and other officials responsible for the day to day operation of the county necessitate additional compensation, while determining that the office of county commissioner — currently paid approximately six times more than members of the Steamboat Springs City Council for similar policy making responsibilities — is ill-suited for additional compensation.

Additionally, given the reality of politics at the state level, local control will allow for more timely and nimble adjustment of salaries — something that is completely absent under the current system. Unfortunately, the current political reality under the Capitol dome in Denver also makes for slim odds that the resolution will pass so that the proposed constitutional amendment appears on the ballot this fall.

That would be tragic, as it’s time to set county salaries locally.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Neil O'Keeffe 5 months, 3 weeks ago

And what is your opinion regarding raising minimum wage to a level that allows many full time workers to live with dignity and simply survive? Would you also consider current minimum wage levels to be "Inadequate compensation is unfair and is a deterrent to those who would otherwise seek to..."? If I had to guess I would say you are opposed but far be it for me to put words in your mouth.

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Rob Douglas 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Neil: When it comes to the issue of a government mandated minimum wage, I find Mark Wilson's policy analysis, "The Negative Effects of Minimum Wage Laws," persuasive. You can find the analysis at: http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/negative-effects-minimum-wage-laws

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Dan Kuechenmeister 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Neil, Would be curious as to what you think is the appropriate minimum wage level. For Steamboat, For Denver, For Chicago, For New York, For Walden

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mark hartless 5 months, 3 weeks ago

For liberals, the minimum wage issue is just like the KXL Pipeline. The pipeline is cleaner and safer than the rail cars we currently use, but they don't want to deal with that reality, just hyperbole.

Never mind that raising the minimum wage requirements causes a net loss of jobs, disproportionately harms minorities and youth who seek trainig and job skills in their employment. By God, we are gonna "help" folks EVEN IF IT COSTS THEM THEIR JOB!

It is hillarious that liberals who claim to want to IMPOSE dignity on wage earners sit happily by as floods of damn-near slave labor come across the border. Again, THAT'S ok cause it'll net us some votes...

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Fatal flaw is the appointment of a citizens board to determine salaries. Think anyone not predisposed to raise salaries would ever apply or get appointed to that board? It'd be populated by party officials from both parties in order for them to assist their elected party members.

Not being paid the highest amounts is hardly unfair and yet to be a deterrent for anyone seeking elected county offices because the elected official is now a boss that answers to no one until the public at the next election If they don't think they are paid well enough then they are under no obligation to work full time.

Thus, I think this is largely a solution in search of a problem.

Though, it probably would make sense if pay could be increased for county elected officials by a ballot measure in the county. It would generally be a tough measure to pass, but if the problem of attracting qualified elected officials became apparent locally then presumably voters would approve it.

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rhys jones 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Have to admit I agree with Scott W on this one. At first I thought Great!! A chance to rein in salaries, get them back in line with reality and the private sector -- but he's right -- it will just be a tool to steal even more from us.

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Fred Duckels 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Government entities seem to spend all that they can get their hands on just on everyday matters. Capital expenditures then require voter approval or grants. I have always maintained that one needs to take an axe to government every day just to maintain.

Outsourcing is one place to start but the beast must be secure and well fed or the natives will get restless.

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jerry carlton 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Put each and every raise on the ballot. Then we taxpayers might be able to regain control of what the politicians steal from us. Congress controls their own salary and benefits. You have seen how well that has worked out for we the taxpayers.

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rhys jones 5 months, 3 weeks ago

“Increases for each type of elected position... process... would include a recommendation from... [not actual say] a bi-partisan citizens’ commission... could develop a transparent approach involving the citizenry [emphasize could]... would not be required to make any salary increases at all.”

Who's talking about INCREASES?? I'm talking about DECREASES. The thieves rob us enough already; vote NO on this ball of goods.

I would propose a citizen-led alternate initiative: How about if OUR independently-selected commission determines ALL salaries, from Governor on down. We'll elect our own delegates. As long as we're paying for this commission anyway.

Somebody get on that petition, would you please? I'm kinda busy lately.

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Neil O'Keeffe 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Just some food for thought and questioning what so called "AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM" is really all about other than exceptional and disproportionate pay for CEO's , Congress, Lobbyists, Banksters, and our ever expanding oligarchy of ruling elite.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/09/how-americas-minimum-wage-em-really-em-stacks-up-globally/279258/

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Dan Kuechenmeister 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Hey Neil, You never answered my question on minimum wage

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Neil O'Keeffe 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Up to the states Dan, at least until we have a functional federal government. IMHO

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mark hartless 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Nazi Germany had a "functional government". As did the Soviet Union and Apartied South Africa.

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mark hartless 5 months, 3 weeks ago

How could a federal government impose one specific wage that fairly compensated the same person for the same job in Mississippi, where rent is $400/month and in Manhattan where rent is $4,000/month???

This is the fools-game that so mant play trying to empower a federal government far beyond it's intended authority.

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mark hartless 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Neil,

You never responded to Mark Wilsons policy analysis provided by Rob D.

Did you bother reading any of that? Or did you just assume those facts were not in sync with your beliefs and therefore dismissable?

Do you not think that "consenting adults" who have the "right to choose" should also have the right to negotiate whatever salary they wish, even if it is lower than standards imposed by Uncle Scam??

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Michael Bird 5 months, 3 weeks ago

It would be interesting to see the 1984 salaries of each elected office compared to the 2014 salaries and then compare them to the income of the waitperson,construction worker,bank teller,and other everydays jobholders who pay for the salaries of our elected officials. I remember that the coroner received $1,000 annually and there were always those who sought that office, for example, and the next raise was to $1,000 monthly. For a part time job, the commissioners seem to be very well paid. There never seems to be a shortage of those wlling to accept the pay and great side benefits (health ins and pension) paid to elected officials. Remember most who pay for their salaries and benefits have to pay for their own health ins and pensions. Whatcha think, Rob? Anyone ?

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Rob Douglas 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Michael: Addressing the first portion of your statement, while I am sympathetic to your suggestion that we compare current salaries to those of 30 years ago, I don't think that's the appropriate way to evaluate salaries (I’ll get to benefits) for county officials responsible for day to day operations.

It’s true the wages of the working class have been stagnant for 40 years. But I would suggest that instead of attempting to pull down the wages of others - including government workers and elected officials with operational jobs - who are doing better than many of us are, we seek policies at the local, state and federal level that encourage economic growth for all Americans.

As for county commissioners, I agree they are compensated too much for what should be (not what they've manufactured to justify their compensation) a part-time, citizen-legislator role that sets policy for county employees to implement. We only need one county manager - not four.

If you compare the policy, budget and personnel oversight responsibilities of the Steamboat Springs City Council, the Routt County Commission and the Steamboat Springs School Board, you'll find the disparity in compensation is dramatic and cries out for reconfiguration.

Having said that, I also believe you get what you pay for and the notion on the part of some that salaries should be minuscule is foolish. If they are to be properly prepared to create budgets, set policy and conduct oversight, elected reps have to read and understand a huge volume of material concerning a wide-range of issues. They should receive fair wages for that workload.

As to benefits, I don't believe any elected official or government employee should receive health insurance/pensions/benefits that are disproportionate from what is available to the self-employed and small business owners who drive the U.S. economy while bearing the most impact from government implemented budgets, laws and regulations.

Finally, the worst kept secret in this community is that the city council and county commissioners (along with the public employees they oversee) have insurance plans and other benefits that are far better than anything available to the vast majority of private sector workers. That should change.

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Michael Bird 5 months, 3 weeks ago

What specific policies would you seek to encourage economic growth at the loca, state, and national levels ? Who would do it/ Who would pay for it? What would be the timeframe ? Sadly it is easy to suggest ideas but ideas without detailed specific economic details lack any merit. Isn't it akin to say one is for world peace ? Don't all politicians says what you propose but also leave out any of the meat.? Isn't it akin to saying " I have a vision" (every politician has a vision) but Perot was about the only one who backed his comments with a specific plan. Until govt costs are reigned in, we cannot truly grow as our debt must be reduced and this can start with reducing public payrolls as private companies have had to do. And yes certain public positions require comparable salaries to the privarte sector.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Neil says "And what is your opinion regarding raising minimum wage to a level that allows many full time workers to live with dignity and simply survive? " Dan asks Neil for "appropriate" minimum wage levels. Neil says it should be left to the states until we have a functional federal government. Apparently their is no "appropriate" minimum wage level. Waiting for a "functional federal government" is kind of like waiting for Godot. How about allowing the business owner some input. He, she, they, it should have an understanding of what labor costs they can absorb and still be profitable. Those same entities should have better knowledge of the value each employee brings to their enterprise.

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mark hartless 5 months, 3 weeks ago

"Freedom of Choice" is just a feel-good slogan for leftists, Dan. Exact opposite of most of their actions.

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Fred Duckels 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Scott, the first paragraph of your last post says volumes and explains how we are on a never ending slide. I'm a curmudgeon and I can't think of any post that I would ever be appointed to. It is not popular to question the status quo and tradition.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Fred,

The great inherent bias with boards and commissions is results from the members being willing to serve are self selected. So it is no longer representative of the general population, but of the people that feel passionately about that topic.

That becomes a problem when there is a presumption that the board or commission represents the general public and not those with a special interest in that topic. So a local housing authority board should be expected to be far more interested in providing cheap housing than making smart business decisions.

With the whole initiative/referendum process, Colorado has a long and pretty successful history of letting the voters decide. If local voters want to pay local elected officials more then that should be allowed.

I think the state of Colorado has a reasonable interest in setting minimum pay levels for elected county officials because those elected county officials have some clear legal responsibilities (such as accurately recording documents or setting assessed property values) and the state's interests would be hurt if some angry voters approved ridiculously low pay and caused offices to go vacant.

Right now the theoretical question is whether the most qualified people are seeking elected offices, not whether no one competent would be willing to fill the offices.

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Fred,

I don't agree that we are on "never ending slide".

Things were hardly that great in the past. There are also occasion important reforms such as Colorado Open Meeting and Colorado Open Records acts. Likewise, TABOR was a huge swing that put taxing powers in the hands of voters. I think mj legalization is also a major reform that is the same scale as repealing Prohibition. Using mj may not be a generally desirable activity, but criminalizing it has been a far greater problem benefiting gangs and smugglers.

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Fred Duckels 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Scott, Your examples are akin to finance reform, good luck. Government growth is inevitable for the reasons that you previously mentioned. Horace Greeley said "go west young man" Today he would say "go east young man" as big government is now the way to fame and fortune.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Government will continue to do what government does best. Spend other people's money. We the voters allow them to continue to do so by electing legislators with very little to no fiscal discipline. Until we stop doing so the spending will continue. In my opinion the "never ending slide" that Fred speaks of will not end until our government spends less then it takes in. At that point we have a chance. "An essential point in the social philosophy of interventionism is the existence of the inexhaustible fund which can be squeezed forever. The whole system of interventionism collapses when this fountain is drained off. The Santa Claus principle liquidates itself." Ludwig von Mises

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Rob Douglas 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Reportedly, this proposal was defeated by one vote in the Colorado Senate today.

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doug monger 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Actually Rob, it was not defeated, it was approved 23 yes to 12 no. It did not get the required yes votes to pass the 66% required majority to refer it to the voters which by my math would have required 24 yes and 11 no. I personally thought this had a snowballs chance in summer Phoenix to passing (especially with the electorate and the mistrust of any government) and was basically a "kicking the can down the road" by our legislature to address issues that they constitutionally were mandated to address and haven't addressed since 2007. Somewhere in their infinite wisdom, after the state salary commission's report was released they combined county officials salary discussion with state elected officials salaries in the same bill. That was a death nail in any discussions of anything.

I sympathize with our locally elected "professional" officials in that their second, third and sometimes the fourth employee in line under the elected official receives more compensation than the elected official. This is with the increased personal liability that comes with as an elected official. I'm ok that the bill did not pass yet if it had, we would have locally dealt with it as appropriately as we could have. Comments were correct in that it all would have then been locally politically posturing.

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doug monger 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Rob, I'm confused in your attribute to four county managers. I assume that refers to the three commissioners and the one county manager. I would say to that, the commissioners are in charge of policy decisions and the county manager is responsible for the administrative implementation of the policy decisions. The county has a salary structure for department heads and has one county manager who supervises department heads. We have researched the opportunities of combining departments, restructuring, and creating a more streamlined approach, yet all of our efforts seemed to lend itself to more middle management. We do not need more middle management and we continue to support a more flat management structure. Regarding your comments that county commissioners create their own work load, manufacture work load to create self worth? I guess that is totally what I would expect my commissioner to do, create work load. I would expect my commissioner to champion locally, state wide, and federal issues that move Routt County to the best possible position for the benefit of us all. If that be in water, transportation, economy, energy policy, work force employment, , public land administration, communications/broadband, community development or what ever, I would expect my commissioner to work diligently to move our county forward as a policy maker and spokesman to put our county in the best possible position to succeed in this dog eat dog world. If the thought is that all of that representation and championing can be done in a weekly meeting is basically dreaming. If I as a commissioner get paid half or a third of what our department heads get paid really does not concern me as much as having the knowledge that I have done all that I could do to protect and enhance our wonderland county. I don't personally believe that commissioner salaries have inhibited candidates but we have to have the opportunity that regular John Q. Citizen that has regular bills to pay and a family to provide for are not prohibited from providing diversified leadership to our county and represent our total county. I respect that the blogs are dominated by the conservative spectrum of our community, but I will say to all of the conservatives, fiscally speaking in my mind you are being very well represented. I watch every penny in our budgets to allow for the stretching of every dollar. Do we pay our employees well? Yes, our county budget is premised on having good employees, running good equipment, and running effectively. It is not great wages, we have for 20 years based our salaries off of surveys. Be they skewed?-- maybe, we have competition that we need to compete with in order to keep our good employees. I would invite anyone to join me weekly in leaving my house at 5:00am in the middle of the winter snowstorm to make the 9:00 am somewhere meeting that lasts all day through 4:30 Friday evening to make it home by 8:00 pm. Not complaining, happy to serve. PART TIME Doug

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Scott Wedel 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I think the idea of having an appointed local commission set local salaries had no hopes of getting approved.

I think allowing a local vote to set local salaries above a state minimum level had a chance.

I don't begrudge our county commissioners for their level of work. I think their weekly meetings preceded by a work session is why the county manager is on the same page as the commissioners. I note that even when the commissioners were a mixture of Republicans and Democrats that the county did not have "issues" with the county manager. Unlike other elected boards, the county commissioners have not felt the need to replace their manager at great expense unlike city councils and school boards

That said, I think Doug overstates the importance of going off to some meeting somewhere. A county commissioner from a county of 30,000 people is simply not going to have much influence on state or federal policy. I think going to such meetings are interesting to the participants, but failing to go will not hurt Routt County residents.

I also note that, as of yet, there has been no refutation of my argument that elected department officials are not legally obligated to be the best or hardest working member of their department. Their legal obligation is to make sure their department follows legal requirements and that's about it.

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Fred Duckels 5 months, 1 week ago

In our local governments we are told that the wages must be high to attract top talent but in a large percentage of the cases we are paying good but are only getting trainees.

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