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County staff attempted some damage control. At 4:40 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, the county sent out an email "on behalf of Sharisse Fuller." It was titled, "To All County Employees."
The email, which Fuller also sent to commissioners and members of the media, stated: "There have been a number of inquiries about 'equity reviews' being completed by Guilford County
Human Resources. All County employees are governed by the Fair Pay Act, and most by more than one of the statutes/laws below. All positions are being reviewed to ensure compliance with the following Federal laws."
The email goes on to quote the equal pay provisions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as those provisions in the Equal Pay Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Ledbetter act, passed in 2009, amended the Civil Rights Act to prohibit wage discrimination based on sex, race or national origin for employees who work in "equivalent jobs."
After explaining the reason for the "equity reviews," the email attempts, in a question-and-answer format, to "hopefully help clarify this process." The email states, "All County employee positions are being reviewed in accordance with the Fair Pay Act."
According to Fuller, there is currently one full-time human resources employee assigned to "equity review," and her department is moving "as quickly as possible" through each group of county employees for the most part department by department to adjust salaries.
Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said, in the Oct. 18 closed session where the raises were discussed, that the county shouldn't increase the directors' salaries until lower-paid county employees got raises. If the county had taken Coleman's advice, it would have mitigated the resulting public relations nightmare to some extent but, for some reason, county staff was determined to get the money into the hands of the department heads.
Last week, Barnes said he was mystified by the raises. He said he didn't know how anyone could compare the sheriff's jobs to any other job in the county, and he said that, if someone had asked him beforehand, he would have told them to give raises to his employees before giving one to him.
This week, Gilbert said he was baffled by the logic behind the amounts of the raises awarded and he also said that under state statute the Board of Elections makes recommendations on salary increases for election directors and the Board of Commissioners has the ultimate say.
Gilbert is retiring in a few months and he said that, with the knowledge that a raise wouldn't really affect him very much, the Board of Elections recommended he be compensated with a lump sum bonus of $8,000. However, he said, the Board of Commissioners never acted on that recommendation. Then, Gilbert said, he found out he had gotten a raise that was never approved by the Board of Commissioners.
Gilbert said that, when he saw the list of directors getting raises and the amounts, none of it made sense to him.
"I wondered why they selected those department directors," Gilbert said.
Gilbert said he is now attempting to discover the rationale behind the pay increases.
"I have requested from Sharisse the information on the equity adjustments," Gilbert said. "I want to see the reasoning behind the adjustments for my position and other positions."
Gilbert said that learning the way raises were calculated might help him understand the disparity that he feels exists between the pay of the employees in the county's elections department, which, he said, seems low compared to the pay in other county departments. He said his staff is highly effective, well-trained, experienced and very well educated, but they never seem to get the same pay consideration that's granted in some other departments.
"That's the battle that I've fought for years," Gilbert said.
He said he would put the education and experience of his department up against any other county departments.
"I've got one, two, three, with master's degrees, and a PhD," he said.
He also said that salaries for some employees such as those in human resources and the Finance Department seem to be higher than the pay of employees in similar positions in other departments.
Gilbert didn't make the point, but Fuller is the head of human resources and Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox was the head of the Finance Department before she was made county manager four years ago.
Fuller said Guilford County
is using a point system that provides a fair methodology for examining pay for similar jobs across county departments. She said the equity review calculations take into account employee classification, pay grades, education and experience.
Payne said that in some cases, department employees have had raises before the department head. For instance, he said, the employees in his office had been reviewed for equity pay and had their salaries adjusted before his own salary was studied and his raise granted.
Payne told The Rhinoceros Times last week that, though the Board of Commissioners never voted on the raises, "Approval without formal action is enough." However legal experts at the NC School of Government, the attorney for the NC Press Association, and several other local government attorneys said the Board of Commissioners must take an official public vote to grant pay increases in those cases such as the sheriff, the finance director, the election director, etc. where the board determines the pay of those employees.
When The Rhino Times asked Payne if he had a conflict of interest in this matter, he said it was not a legal conflict of interest for him to be a recipient of a raise and also one of the people making the judgement on the legality of the raises. He said he did not recommend the raises, but merely played his role as county attorney once the process was in motion.
Amanda Martin, an attorney for the NC Press Association, also said Payne did not have a conflict of interest under the law. She said that the role of county attorney sometimes out of necessity means the county attorney will make a judgement that could influence his or her salary. Martin said that in some extreme cases a county might seek outside legal help to decide a debate of this nature but she said she thought those cases would be the exception rather than the rule.
Payne said there was a "consensus" in the Oct. 18 backroom meeting. However, some commissioners who were in that closed session including Commissioners Winstead, Gibson and Coleman say they didn't favor the raises, and another commissioner, John Parks said he remained silent in the discussion.
Commissioners Skip Alston and Billy Yow said they favored the move. Commissioner Bruce Davis said he believed the raises were necessary but he said he thought he remembered the board coming out of the closed session and taking a public vote to grant the raises after the closed session discussion.
Two people in the backroom meeting said that Commissioner Bill Bencini and Payne had a disagreement during the discussion about the meaning of the word "consensus." Bencini told The Rhino Times this week that in the closed session he expressed concern that the discussion was taking place behind closed doors and he also said he questioned the need to do something right away....continued on page 3