Debate turns heated on proposal to dock commissioner pay

Published 3:28 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Debate on a resolution to make changes to how commissioners are paid turned heated Tuesday after one commissioner said he felt the proposal was a personal attack against him.

Part of the proposed resolution dealt with how commissioners are paid for attending committee meetings. In recent months, some confusion has arisen regarding how commissioners are to be paid if they attend more than one committee meeting in a day or if they fill in for a member of their district’s delegation who is unable to make their scheduled meeting.

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Some of the committees made up of the same members hold consecutive meetings at the same location. For example, the same eight commissioners serve on the Rules & Bylaws, Building & Grounds, Health & Welfare, and Law Enforcement Committees. That group meets once a month at the courthouse and conducts business for all four committees in succession. As a result, those commissioners are compensated for attending one meeting.

In another slate of committees, the Highway Committee meets in the afternoon at the Carter County Highway Department and then the members return later that evening to the Carter County Courthouse or other location to hold meetings for the Education and Landfill Committees. Because those commissioners attend meetings at two different times and two different locations on that same day, they will now be paid for attending two meetings.

The change in policy also allows a commissioner who fills in for a colleague by attending a committee meeting to be compensated for his or her time.

The most controversial part of the resolution dealt with paying commissioners for attending meetings of the full commission and docking their pay if they leave the meeting before it is adjourned.

State law establishes the minimum a commissioner can be paid for attending a meeting of the full Commission as $35 but allows the county’s the authority to set that compensation at a higher value. Under current Commission bylaws, commissioners are paid $100 for each meeting of the full group they attend.

“The Rules and Bylaws Committee for Carter County has studied the issue of the compensation paid to county commissioners and the current attendance requirements mandated by statute and has recommended that the current compensation paid to each county commissioner should remain $100 for each meeting of the full county legislative body attended,” the resolution states. “However, if a commissioner fails to remain at the meeting until it is finally adjourned, the amount of compensation received by said commissioner should be reduced to the state minimum compensation required for attendance at said meeting.”

So, under the terms of the proposal, if a commissioner leaves a meeting early, their pay would be reduced from $100 to $35.

When the resolution was presented to the full Commission, Rules & Bylaws Committee Chairman Commissioner Randall Jenkins made a motion to approve the resolution. Commissioner Mike Hill provided the second for the motion.

When debate on the resolution opened, Commissioner L.C. Tester said he felt the proposed resolution was a personal attack against him because he has left several meetings early.

“I resent the fact and want to make a motion to strike that part,” Tester said of the pay docking proposal.

Tester said many of the Commission meetings go on for several hours as the members “argue over nothing” and that he stays through what he feels are the “important” items on the agenda.

“You are making rules to hold us here against our will to get our money,” Tester said to Jenkins. “The first time it’s not on my check I’ll see you in court because I’ll sue you personally.”

Jenkins said the issue was brought before the Rules & Bylaws Committee so he and his fellow committee members looked into the matter. He denied that the resolution was directed at any particular individual.

“I feel, and the Rules & Bylaws felt, that you are cheating the people you represent if you leave early,” Jenkins said. “I’m not doing this to punish you L.C., or to punish anyone. I’m just doing what I think is right.”

Fellow Rules & Bylaws Committee member Commissioner Timothy Holdren also stated the proposal was not intended to target any specific member of the legislative body.

“There was no one person or issue that brought this about,” Holdren said. “It’s merely an accountability issue. We are accountable to our constituents.”

Some members of the Commission voiced concerns that colleagues who had to leave early due to illness or other personal matters would be punished unduly but also feared that any process to excuse an absence for a commissioner leaving early could become too arbitrary.

“Things do come up,” Commissioner Al Meehan said. “It can be an emergency at home.”

Meehan offered an amendment to the resolution to strike the portion that would reduce the pay of a commissioner for leaving the meeting early. Commissioner Bobbie Gouge-Dietz seconded his amendment.

The amendment failed on a vote of 4-18. Commissioners Al Meehan, L.C. Tester, Ross Garland, and Bobbie Gouge-Dietz voted in favor of the amendment. Commissioners Buford Peters, Willie Campbell, Dr. Robert Acuff, Mike Hill, Bradley Johnson, Ronnie Trivett, Charles VonCannon, Isaiah Grindstaff, Danny Ward, Timothy Holdren, Randall Jenkins, John Lewis, Larry “Doc” Miller, Sonja Culler, Ray Lyons, Scott Simerly, Robert Carroll, and Cody McQueen all voted to oppose the amendment. Commissioners Nancy Brown and Kelly Collins were absent from the meeting.

Following the failed attempt to amend the resolution, the commissioners then voted on the resolution itself, which passed by a margin of 19-3. Commissioners Peters, Campbell, Acuff, Hill, Johnson, Trivett, VonCannon, Grindstaff, Ward, Gouge-Dietz, Holdren, Jenkins, Lewis, Miller, Culler, Lyons, Simerly, Carroll and McQueen all voted to approve the changes to the compensation policy. Commissioners Meehan, Tester, and Garland voted against adopting the resolution.

After the vote, Tester asked the group “Who makes that decision on who gets paid or not?”

Hill replied, “The minute you walk out that door you make that decision.”