December 13, 2012
Guilford County commissioners, department heads, employees and residents have so many questions regarding the 15 recent raises secretly granted to Guilford County
department heads that the new Board of Commissioners may investigate the way the raises came about and take any appropriate action.
The new nine-member Board of Commissioners, with a Republican majority for the first time in 14 years, holds its first regular meeting on Thursday, Dec. 13, and discussion of the controversial raises which were given out by the county's Human Resources Department after a Thursday, Oct. 18 closed session of the previous Board of Commissioners is expected to be brought up at that meeting.
Newly elected Commissioner Jeff Phillips said the raises and the way they came about cause him concern on several fronts. He said he's disturbed by the secrecy surrounding the raises, the fact that the commissioners never voted on them and the mystery of how Guilford County
seems to be able to pull money out of nowhere in the middle of a budget year.
No funds for raises were appropriated in the 2012-2013 county budget that the Board of Commissioners adopted in June.
Phillips said raises such as these should be part of the budget process each year and, furthermore, that they should be done out in the open.
The process was so secret that some department heads said this week they didn't know they had gotten a raise until they saw their name beside the amount of their raise in the Nov. 22 edition of The Rhinoceros Times.
Phillips also said he had no knowledge of the raises until he read about them in The Rhino Times.
He said the new board needs to look into the matter.
"I think we should revisit it; I think we will," Phillips said. "I'm still working to find some answers. We need to understand and consider fully the way that was done. If I have any say in it, we will."
Phillips said the raises and the process by which they were awarded are a perfect example of why he ran for office to make Guilford County
government more transparent.
He also said the fact that the legality of some of the raises is in question is troubling.
"That's all the more reason for us to revisit this," Phillips said.
New Commissioner Hank Henning also said the controversy over raises now falls squarely into the lap of the new board.
"At the next meeting or whenever, we're going to have to deal with it," Henning said.
Henning said the previous board should have done the same thing with the directors' raises that it did with a controversial Prison Farm rezoning that's on the horizon. He said they should have left the question for the new board to answer.
"I think they should have let us handle it," he said of the raises. "They should have waited until we got in. They did the right thing with the Prison Farm."
Now, Henning said, the new board will have to deal with the raises as a "residual issue."
He said the raises are just more expenditures to go with the other spending that the new board has been saddled with.
"The bigger picture is that all of these are budget issues it all has to be dealt with," Henning said.
He said another key concern about the raises is the way it was done behind closed doors with zero transparency.
"It's not my money; it's not the county manager's money it's the taxpayers money," Henning said.
He said that, since it's taxpayer money, those taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent, and that certainly includes, he said, a right to be informed when department heads are given raises.
Of Guilford County
's 25 department heads, 15 received raises. Seven of the 15 raises awarded, by law, require a vote by the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners which never happened.
The lowest raise, $1,947 went to Guilford County
Board of Elections Director George Gilbert, whose salary increased from $97,372 to $99,319. The largest, $14,222, was given to Department of Social Services Director Robert Williams, whose salary went from $125,778 to $140,000 a year. County Attorney Mark Payne fell in the middle of the pack, with a raise of $4,400, which moved his salary from $148,600 to $153,000 a year.
Former Commissioners Mike Winstead and Paul Gibson, Sheriff BJ Barnes, Gilbert and many others say they see no rhyme or reason to the amounts of the raises and they say the process that determined who got raises and how much each received is a mystery.Guilford County
Assistant Manager Sharisse Fuller, who's also the county's human resources director, said the raises aren't "raises" but instead are "equity salary adjustments." She said they were determined by looking at what others in comparable jobs in Guilford County
government are being paid. She said the salary reviews did not look at pay in other counties or in other local governments.
As a result of the raises, some county employees are now being paid more than the salary set by the Board of Commissioners that is, they are being paid more than they're legally entitled to receive.
In the case of the sheriff and the register of deeds, as well as those who got raises and who work directly for the board the county attorney, the finance director and the clerk to the board their salaries by law are set by a vote of the Board of Commissioners.
The Board of Commissioners also sets the salaries for two other county employees who got raises Gilbert, the director of elections, and Williams, the director of social services.
Though those two department heads are hired and fired by the boards that oversee their departments and those boards also recommend pay increases or decreases for those directors to the county commissioners the salaries of the two directors must be set by the Guilford County
Board of Commissioners.
Since seven county directors are now being paid salaries higher than their salaries approved by the Board of Commissioners, those seven directors are currently getting "gifts," also known as "emoluments." It is illegal for the county to give out taxpayer money as gifts.
Apart from the legal ramifications, there's also the fact that the raises have angered so many. Some county department heads not on the list feel cheated because they didn't get a raise. The county employees who haven't had raises in four years are angry. Taxpayers who have been told time and again that the county's budget was so tight there was no money for raises or anything else aren't pleased. New commissioners who are left to help clean up the mess don't like it. Even some of the department heads who got raises say they're displeased over the move because their employees weren't first in line to get raises. Some of the department heads who got raises said they've requested raises for their employees for years and have been rejected by county administration time and again.
Fuller maintains that these are "equity salary adjustments" and she said that some other employees besides department heads have gotten the adjustments and others will follow. The word "adjustment" suggests that salaries could go either up or down, but, even though Fuller insists on using that word, she admits that the salary changes resulting from the equity studies have been upward adjustments in each and every case. ...continued on page 2