...continued from page 1Guilford County
Budget Director Michael Halford took a seat next to Fuller and attempted to answer that question. Halford said the money was coming primarily from lapsed salaries – that is, money that was budgeted for positions that remain unfilled, or positions that employees have vacated during the budget year. Halford said some departments didn't have enough excess money in lapsed salaries to pay for the equity adjustments and, therefore, he said, in some cases employees were having to wait for their expected pay increases.
Phillips said he was highly displeased with the fact that the new commissioners were having to deal with this in the first place.
"This has been a learning experience right out of the gate, which frankly stinks," he said at the meeting.
Phillips said he found many aspects of what had transpired very troubling. He said the timing of the raises in the middle of the budget year, as well as "the expediency" with that the effort was undertaken, raised a lot of questions. He said the fact that something that should have been addressed in public was done in a closed session and never revealed publicly by the county was disturbing. He also said the fact that the county had 2,400 employees and that 15 of the highest paid county employees were near the front of the line for getting pay increases didn't make much sense to him.
Phillips also said he didn't like being forced into the position of playing either the Grinch or Santa Claus for the effected county department heads.
After stating his issues with the raises, Phillips made a motion to rescind the salary increases for the sheriff, the register of deeds and the three employees who work directly for the board – the clerk, the attorney and the finance director.
Phillips added that, in the interest of fairness, his motion also included the provision that the board direct the county manager to rescind the pay raises to the employees that fall under the manager.
Phillips' motion didn't get a second, and Shaw announced that the motion died for lack of a second.
"I stand alone in the moment," said a perplexed looking Phillips.
Payne then stepped in and said there remained an open question about the five salaries. Payne said he felt it was advisable for the board to take action on the five salaries in order "to erase any question" about the legality of the raises.
Cashion made a motion that the board affirm the five pay increases of the sheriff, the register of deeds, the finance director, the attorney and the clerk to the board. No one brought up the director of elections and of social services, whose salaries the board also sets and who also got raises through the illegal backroom process.
Coleman has been critical of giving the raises to the department heads, and she told The Rhinoceros Times last month that she spoke out in the Oct. 18 closed session against granting the raises. However, Coleman said it would be unfair at this point to go back and take the pay increases away from the department heads who were already receiving the money.
"We are dealing with people's families here," Coleman said.
Phillips said he'd wrestled with the fairness aspect as well, but he added that many of the county's employees had been "passed over," and he said he not only objected to what was done but also to how it was done.
Henning said that, like Phillips, he didn't appreciate the mess the previous board had dropped in the lap of the new commissioners. Henning said the county was likely "opening ourselves up to more litigation because of the way it was done."
"I'm pretty disgusted with the way it all transpired," Henning said. "It wasn't done in a transparent way," he said and he added that he was "very frustrated" by the situation he found himself in at the meeting. However, in the end Henning voted for the raises.
Trapp also took the opportunity to criticize the actions of the previous board.
He said a lot of things seem to have come about because of the "familiarity" between county officials that had developed over the last "16 to 20 years," and he added that, in the coming years, he wanted to see the county's business done in a more open manner, with no shortcuts taken because of some sort of close-knit relationship between some in the decision making process.
At the meeting, newly elected Commissioner Alan Branson also said he did not much like the position he found himself in.
"Coming out of the gate, I feel like we've been thrown a curve ball," he said.
Branson also said it was his hope that, as the new Board of Commissioners moved forward with the four new members, that it wouldn't allow this type of questionable activity.
The commissioners who had taken part in the closed session where the raises were discussed just seemed to want to get the entire matter behind them.
Davis said, "We can spend the next three years undoing what the previous board did and not get to the business of the county."
He added, "If this is a mess, as it has been described, then undoing it would simply create another mess. We're doing the work of the county – it's hard to move forward if you're going in reverse."
When the vote was taken on the motion to affirm the raises for the five department heads, only Phillips and Branson voted no.
Fuller made the point several times in the meeting that the county had about 2,400 employees and she only had one human resources employee available to conduct these evaluations full time.
At the Dec. 13 meeting, the board voted unanimously for staff to explore the cost of having a paid consultant either take over or assist the Human Resources Department with the work of evaluating the county's equity pay.
The board will revisit the matter at their annual retreat on Thursday, Jan. 10.
The day after the Dec. 13 meeting, Henning said he didn't appreciate the situation the new commissioners were placed in but that they had to fix the problem and, he said, taking the raises away might have made legal action against the county more likely.
"We had to fix it," Henning said, adding that it wasn't a pleasant task, especially with it being his first time out as a commissioner.
"It rubbed me the wrong way," Henning said of the whole experience.