November 29, 2012
Many Guilford County
employees who haven't gotten raises in four years were outraged to learn that 15 county department heads just received large raises in secret – pay increases of up to $14,000 a year – while county administration has simultaneously been telling county employees there's no money for merit raises for them because the county budget has been cut to the bone in recent years.
Also, since the directors' raises were made public by The Rhinoceros Times last week, some commissioners who first learned of the pay increases in a closed backroom meeting are now publicly criticizing the move and the process by which the raises came about. Until the raises became public knowledge last week, many commissioners were reluctant to speak out or discuss them in any way because county staff presented those raises to the board as a "personnel issue" and a "legal matter."
The commissioners, who were told by county staff that "salary adjustments" were a legal necessity to keep Guilford County
from opening itself up to a lawsuit, never took a public vote on the raises or discussed them in the open in any way.
According to county staff, while the commissioners never officially voted on the matter, there was "a consensus" in the backroom among commissioners that county management should be allowed to move forward.
One commissioner who was in the closed session said: "I don't know who's driving this, but it's not right."
Some commissioners say they don't think a clear consensus was ever reached in that closed session.
"I didn't vote for it," Commissioner Paul Gibson said.
When told that county staff claimed a consensus of commissioners was reached, Gibson said that, from the conversation – with some commissioners for and some against – it was difficult to tell where the majority of the board stood.
"I'd like to know what that vote was," Gibson said.
Some commissioners were clearly willing to go along with the move after being told that the county faced legal action if they didn't. The line of argument from the county staff is that these types of pay adjustment must be made or county employees who are not getting paid equally for equal pay would have a legitimate lawsuit that those employees could bring against the county.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston, for instance, said this week that the county had to grant the raises since a lawsuit might have cost the county much more than the salary adjustments. Alston said that, if a lawsuit were successful, the county could be forced to pay years of back wages to an employee who won in court.
Gibson asked – if it's such a great idea to give the raises to the department heads, and there's a legal necessity behind the move as well as support among the commissioners – why was there no public discussion or any official vote in an open meeting?
Gibson said that, if The Rhinoceros Times hadn't found out about the raises, no one would have ever known about them – or, at least, the pay increases would have only been discovered at some point in the future, and then, he said, the excuse given at that time would be that that decision was made by a former board and a former manager who was now retired.
One county official said there are other problems with the raises as well – such as where the county is supposed to find the money in a budget that county officials claimed in June contained absolutely no fat.
The presentation of county management's decision to grant the raises was made by Assistant County Manager Sharisse Fuller, who's also Guilford County
's human resources director. County Manager Brenda Jones Fox and Guilford County
Attorney Mark Payne were in the closed session as well.
Commissioner Mike Winstead is one of the most reserved members of the Board of Commissioners; however, Winstead was very outspoken this week on this latest move to grant department heads raises.
"It's ludicrous," Winstead said of the raises and the way they came about.
Winstead said that, in the closed session, staff presented the raises as a virtual necessity because of fear of a lawsuit.
Fuller told The Rhinoceros Times this week that the raises were "equity salary adjustments." She said the Guilford County
Human Resources Department determined what the salaries of the Guilford County
department heads should be in order to create equity. She added that the Human Resources Department has been looking at many county employees to compare the pay for those in similar positions with similar experience and a similar educational background.
In an email to The Rhinoceros Times, Fuller wrote that the raises for department heads were "equity adjustments pertaining to the Department Directors pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act." Fuller contends that that legislation, which requires fair and equitable pay for employees in similar situations, is what leaves the county open to a lawsuit if the salary adjustments had not been made.
Winstead said he finds that argument baseless. He said it seems ridiculous on its face because each county department only has one department head; and, if these raises really are, as staff claims, the result of strictly internal comparisons looking only at other county employee pay, then it doesn't make any sense to give equity pay increases to department directors.
"These are department heads," Winstead said. "There's no one else to compare them to and judge those salaries‑ against."
He said he could find no rhyme or reason for the amounts.
"This is the only place where you can slap 12 people's names on a list and say we have to give them raises or we'll get sued," Winstead said.
There were 15 names of department heads who got raises on the list provided to The Rhinoceros Times by the county. It's not clear exactly what was on the information sheet presented to the commissioners in the closed session because, at the end of that presentation, county staff collected those sheets from the commissioners. County staff did so even though salaries and raises – and even "equity salary adjustments" – are public record.
The Rhinoceros Times obtained the list of the 15 directors and their salary increases through a public records request made on Friday, Nov. 16 and a second request on the following Monday. The Rhino Times received the information on Tuesday, Nov. 20 – even though the information was already compiled into presentation form since the commissioners were given the same information in the closed session weeks earlier.
The directors who got raises were Guilford County
Finance Director Reid Baker, who's salary went from $128,600 to $135,000; Sheriff BJ Barnes, from $137,493 to $142,000; Tax Director Ben Chavis, from $105,600 to $113,000; Security Director Jeff Fowler, from $80,133 to $87,000; Elections Director George Gilbert, from $97,372 to $99,319; Budget Director Mike Halford, from $112,013 to $120,000; Facilities Director Fred Jones, from $99,961 to $109,000; Child Support/Court Services Director Renee Kenan, from $102,950 to $110,000; Juvenile Detention Director Doug Logan, from $78,917 to $86,500; County Attorney Mark Payne, from $148,600 to $153,000; Emergency Services Director Alan Perdue, from $107,532 to $115,000; Internal Audit Director Martha Rogers, from $101,154 to $110,000; Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, from $107,438 to $109,586; Clerk to the Board Effie Varitimidis, from $77,850 to $81,500; and Social Services Director Robert Williams, who's salary went from $125,778 to $140,000 a year....continued on page 2