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Winstead said he also had questions about the peculiar timing of the raises, which were presented to the commissioners at one of the final meetings of the outgoing board.
"Why now?" Winstead asked. "Shouldn't this be a matter for the new board? Are the department heads really going to sue us in the next three weeks?"
According to Winstead, the whole event is very similar to an 11th-hour payout of $200,000 that the outgoing Board of Commissioners gave to the High Point Area Arts Council at the commissioners' last regular meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15.
Winstead said that move made it evident to him that the board wasn't acting rationally – but instead was simply handing out money to any one who could find six votes of support at the last meeting of the outgoing board.
The decision to give the money to the High Point Area Arts Council, to help the group purchase a new headquarters, wasn't on the Nov. 15 agenda, wasn't vetted or discussed beforehand publicly in any way, and the new funding for the arts council came out of the blue at a time when the county is telling drug addicts, who had been getting treatment through the county's substance abuse clinic – basically a place of last resort – that they would no longer be able to receive treatment from the county because the funding just isn't there.
The original request for the money for the High Point arts council that night came at the beginning of the meeting from a well-dressed speaker from the floor: High Point attorney Jim Morgan, who serves on the board of the High Point Area Arts Council.
Winstead told of his reaction when he heard that request.
"Jim Morgan came in a tuxedo and asked for the money, and I leaned over to another commissioner, and I said, 'Yeah that's really going to happen.'"
Winstead, who was making that remark sarcastically since he thought at that point there was no way the board would grant such an out of the ordinary request, said that, later in the meeting, when the motion to grant the money passed, he was dumbfounded.
"That shows how out of the loop I am," Winstead said.
Winstead said the raises for the department heads were just one more example of that type of mindless government.
"That was worse than the arts," Winstead said of the raises.
Winstead, an outgoing commissioner, suggested that, since the commissioners are now just haphazardly handing out money that's nowhere in the budget, perhaps there should be bonuses for the commissioners who are leaving the board.
"We should vote to give the outgoing commissioners $25,000 as appreciation for their service to the county," Winstead said sarcastically. "Why not? I think we could get six votes for it."
He went on to theorize about which commissioners he could get to go along with the $25,000 bonuses for commissioners.
When Gibson was asked about the argument that the raises had to be granted or the county would open itself up to a lawsuit, Gibson had a two-word reply: The first word of his response, "bull," is repeatable in The Rhinoceros Times; however, the second word is not.
He said the move was absurd.
"I really don't understand how they did that," Gibson said.
He said it may make sense at some point to adjust salaries for department heads that are truly out of line, "But not right now," Gibson added, citing the economy and all the things the county has had to cut in recent years.
Gibson also asked, if it was the right thing to do, why was everything done behind closed doors?
"None of these department heads are going to sue us," Gibson said. "Is Mark Payne really going to sue us because he doesn't get a $5,000 raise?"
Fuller said the county has been looking to establish and maintain pay equity among employees for years.
Fuller said the law requiring equity in pay applies to all companies with 15 employees or more. She said the county has been studying, and is continuing to look into, equity issues among all county employees. Fuller also said reviewing equity pay is now standard practice when people are hired so that the county doesn't make itself a target for a lawsuit.
"We look at everybody when they are hired," Fuller said.
Payne said that salary adjustments of this kind fall under the authority of the manager, and he said that if there hadn't been a consensus, the board could have prevented the manager from moving forward with the raises.
County employees, who have been denied merit raises for four years in a row now, were buzzing when they heard of the large raises for the department heads.
One angry employee who wrote to The Rhinoceros Times stated after reading the article: "I was hired at the bottom of the pay grade. I thought, naively, that once I demonstrated my ability and work ethic, my compensation would be adjusted accordingly. However, after four years of seeing just how dysfunctional and inefficient our County government and administration really are, I know that the only way for me to ever succeed is to wait for the economy to improve and leave Guilford County
as soon as possible."
The employee said he believes the rampant anger and dissatisfaction among many of the county's 2,300 employees over their mistreatment for years on end will be obvious once the economy recovers.
"I predict," he wrote, "that there will be a massive walk out when the economy eventually improves because those of us who've been hired in the last five years from the private sector are mad as hell and cannot wait to go back to a real world meritocracy where we can have reasonable expectations of succeeding based solely on our own talent and efforts."
He also said the irony of the raises going to top-level employees is that, in many cases throughout all Guilford County
departments, it's the lower-echelon county employees who are doing the majority of the real work, finding efficiencies, and making any of innovative and beneficial changes in the way Guilford County
government is run.
"That's not to say that there aren't many long term County employees who are conscientious, knowledgeable and hard-working," he wrote, "but for every one of them there is at least one more who never had the skills nor the inclination to do anything except play the system and collect a paycheck … It's a real shame. The environment here does not reward, and in fact, does not even encourage, competency or hard work or innovation."
Winstead said he could sum the situation up easily: He said it would be insane if he ran his construction company in this manner.
"Only government could work this way," Winstead said.