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"After the election, I sat down and put the numbers on paper, and it was self-evident that they weren't fulfilling their obligation," Gilbert said of the Board of Commissioners.
Gilbert said that, after 25 years of running Guilford County
's elections department, he was still stuck at the midpoint of the pay scale.
"That doesn't make any sense," Gilbert said. "Why have a pay scale then?"
He said that recommendations by the Board of Elections for increasing his pay have been disregarded year after year and he finally felt a need to take action.
Gilbert said this move was meant not only to address his situation, but also to create fair and legal salaries for future Guilford County
"It's not just for me, but also for those who come after me," Gilbert said.
In December, shortly after Gilbert announced his retirement, the Guilford County
Board of Elections voted to recommend that Guilford County
Board of Elections Deputy Director Charlie Collicutt be named the new director of the department. Collicutt is expected to get that job.
Like Cohen, Gilbert stressed that this action wasn't related to the recent controversy about the 15 raises that went to Guilford County
Gilbert said the history of inequitable pay for election directors in this county precedes his employment as director.
"It has traditionally been an underpaid position," Gilbert said, adding that most of his predecessors in the job had been female.
He said that, over the years, the job has evolved into one that requires a much higher level of professionalism, training and responsibility than it did years ago.
He pointed out that the elections director is not under the county manager, isn't an elected official and doesn't work for the Board of Commissioners. He said that puts him in an unusual category and reiterated that the salary parameters for county elections directors in this state are laid out by the statute cited in Cohen's letter.
Gilbert said that, though the law has been in effect for years and years, in Guilford County
the Board of Commissioners has consistently ignored the statute. He said that, either due to "timidity" or due to "subservience to the county manager or the budget director," the county commissioners have failed to offer a salary for his position that is sufficient to be in accord with state law.
Gilbert also said he has studied the situations and salaries of other elections directors in North Carolina looking at factors such as complexity of the elections, the size of the counties and the length of employment of the directors. Gilbert said he focused on comparisons of the state's seven largest counties – Mecklenburg, where the elections director makes $112,000; Wake, where the salary is $110,000; Guilford, where Gilbert makes just over $99,000; Forsyth, $90,000; Cumberland, $96,000; Durham, where a brand new director is making $80,000 a year; and Buncombe County, where the elections director makes $104,000 annually.
Gilbert cites frequently that the elections director in Buncombe County, which is much smaller than Guilford County
, makes about $4,000 more than Gilbert. Buncombe County has a population of about 244,000 compared to Guilford County
's population of over 495,000.
Last week, the Guilford County
Board of Elections sent a letter of support to the Board of Commissioners requesting they grant Gilbert's request.
Shaw said this week that, since Cohen's letter arrived during the holiday season, it was too early for the county to have formed a response. She said the commissioners would be conferring with Payne at a future date in order to determine the appropriate course of action. Evidently, the county takes off more days than most at Christmas, since 22 days seems enough time to respond to a letter.
In an email, Payne told The Rhinoceros Times that as county attorney he would take his direction from the commissioners.
"The letter sets out a legal claim and it's one that is appropriate for discussion, including discussion in closed session for the board to consult with counsel," Payne wrote. "If there is a closed session discussion on this, staff will follow the board's instruction on this."