December 27, 2012
My friends who don't vote because they say there is no difference between the two parties were once again proven right at the first regular meeting of the new nine-member Guilford County
Board of Commissioners with a Republican majority.
For the last 14 years the board had been controlled by Democrats, and for the last four run with the iron fist of former Chairman Skip Alston.
After a much ballyhooed takeover of the Board of Commissioners by Republicans, the first order of business of this Republican board was to raise the salaries of some of Guilford County
's highest paid employees who had been receiving illegal compensation approved by county manager Brenda Jones Fox, and to appoint two Democrats to plum positions on powerful governing boards.
A far better course of action, the course that many conservatives who voted for a more conservative board expected, would have been to not give anybody raises, to fire Fox who got them in the salary hike mess to begin with, and to appoint conservative Republicans to the boards that control county policy.
But it turns out the newly elected commissioners are behaving exactly like what they are – newly elected commissioners. Chairman Linda Shaw is behaving like a liberal Democrat, as she has for the last couple of years, and it would appear Commissioner Bill Bencini is supporting Shaw, Fox and the policies of the Democratic board controlled by Alston.
The Republicans were given a rare opportunity in their first meeting to grand stand and prove they were going to govern differently – looking out for the taxpayers first, not putting the highly paid county staff first and the taxpayers a distant second. But the only Republican who did anything to be proud of is Commissioner Jeff Phillips, who not only voted against the raises, but made a motion to rescind the raises, which failed for lack of a second.
It's a rookie mistake not to nail down a second before you make a motion, but Phillips is a rookie. You would certainly have expected one of the new Republican county commissioners, Alan Branson or Hank Henning, to have at least seconded the motion. For that matter, Shaw or Bencini could have seconded the motion, as a courtesy for a fellow Republican commissioner at his first meeting, but it certainly doesn't appear that Shaw and Bencini are on the same team with Branson, Phillips and Henning. For the rookies, seconding a motion does not mean that you agree with the motion, it only means you think the motion is worthy of discussion. Since the whole county had been discussing the illegal raises, it certainly seems they were worthy of discussion and the commissioners did end up discussing them.
However, Henning voted with Shaw, Bencini and the Democrats to give the inexplicable raises to the department heads. At least Phillips and Branson kept their heads and voted against them.
But there, in the first big vote, the three rookies should have learned a valuable lesson – the county staff is not their friend. The county staff will tell them all kinds of things, and in some cases even the truth, but that is rare. And with Fox at the helm it is extremely rare to get the truth from the staff.
They should also have learned that the current county attorney, Mark Payne, who is a direct employee of the Board of Commissioners, is confused about who he works for. He is a county employee who doesn't work for the county manager. His direct report is to the Board of Commissioners and, as he well knows, a majority vote of the commissioners is the only way his salary can legally be raised. Lately Payne's legal advice seems to be from the perspective of the county manager. A closed session with Payne to make certain that his loyalties lie with the Republican majority that now runs the county, and not the county manager who works for them, would be in order.
Henning, who ran as a conservative, in his first meeting voted to give some of the highest paid employees in Guilford County
government raises. The Lilly Ledbetter act, which staff cites, does not deal with equalization of pay. All it does is extend the time period during which an employee can sue. So the law against discrimination didn't change with Lilly Ledbetter, only the amount of time the county could be sued. In other words, Lilly Ledbetter is nothing more than a smokescreen.
A commissioner who had done some research could have asked the county attorney for a list of counties in North Carolina who had been sued by their white male sheriff because he was being discriminated against under the Lilly Ledbetter act. The number is zero.
Attorneys familiar with employment law say that it is an extremely difficult lawsuit to win because you have to prove that the jobs, and the people in the jobs, are identical. The sheriff, for instance, got a raise because he was compared to a county dentist III. Sometimes the sheriff might say that his job is like pulling teeth, but really it isn't. A dentist may want to be able to lock up unruly patients, or those who had garlic for lunch, but he can't. It is an absurd argument that the sheriff needs a raise because dentists are paid more.
The new commissioners need to learn that they cannot trust the staff to give them reliable, accurate or even honest answers. Some commissioners like to only ask questions that they have researched before the meeting, so they can force the staff to give answers that make some sense.
But the new Republican majority didn't stop at just giving out raises to those who needed them the least, they also appointed former Chairman Alston to the Guilford County
Board of Health and new Democratic Commissioner Ray Trapp to the Board of Social Services.
If the Republicans want to reduce spending and bring forth a more conservative county government they can't appoint free-spending Democrats like Alston and his protégé Trapp to powerful boards that run county departments.
The Social Services Board runs the Social Services Department, and appointing a liberal Democrat to that board is not going to help reduce spending.
The newly elected commissioners might not have known what they were doing, but in that case it is always appropriate to ask for more time.
Trapp is replacing former Commissioner John Parks on the Social Services Board. Parks is a Democrat he was appointed by a board with a Democratic majority. It is partisan politics and that is how the game is played. The Democrats didn't put former Commissioner Billy Yow on the Social Services Board because Yow is a Republican.
The appointment to the Social Services Board has in the past been a controversial appointment. The last time the Republicans had a majority, two Democratic county commissioners sued the Republican board when an attempt was made to remove them. Eventually the Republicans figured out a way to remove them and get a Republican majority on that board, but Alston was fit to be tied and declared he would fire the county employees involved if he ever got the chance....continued on page 2