November 21, 2012
Guilford County government put a freeze on merit pay raises for all Guilford County
employees four years ago, and, in the 2012-2013 budget no money could be found to fund raises for the county's roughly 2,300 employees. However, in an off-budget move that took place entirely behind the scenes recently, a host of Guilford County
department heads have just received significant raises.
The message from the county's decision makers to county employees in the budget adopted this year was the same message as in the last three years: Guilford County
is sorry but money is just too tight to award merit raises to county employees. Before 2009, those raises were, year after year, awarded like clockwork to virtually all county employees.
So it might seem like magic that Guilford County
has suddenly managed to find money to give some county directors raises of up to $9,000 annually in the middle of a fiscal year when the county hit citizens with a large tax hike and included no money in the budget for employee merit raises.
However, sources familiar with the mechanics of the raises say that no magic was used just some fancy footwork along with creative ways of finding extra money in a county budget that supposedly had been cut to the bone before the Board of Commissioners adopted it in June.
In internal discussions, the pay increases are not being referred to as "raises," which the county has supposedly had on hold for years. Instead, the pay increases are classified as "parity salary adjustments." Webster's Dictionary defines a raise as "an increase in wages or salary."
According to a county department head who asked not to be identified (and who is not getting a raise), the Guilford County
Human Resources Department has been conducting parity studies of salaries to determine the size of the salary increases for the county department heads who received the recent raises. The department head said that, in cases where the county conducted a study and found that Guilford County
directors weren't receiving pay comparable to directors in similar positions in other local governments, "salary adjustments" were made. That is, raises were given under the justification that all Guilford County
department heads whose pay is out of line with those in other counties deserve to be compensated fairly.
There is no indication that department heads' salaries were cut when it was discovered that their salaries were higher than the salaries of those in similar positions in other local governments.
Those raises are reflected in the affected directors' most recent paychecks. However, there has been no public discussion or notification of the raises.
According to one Guilford County
commissioner, the Board of Commissioners was presented with the raises for the department directors in a closed session at a recent commissioners meeting. County officials are legally allowed to meet behind closed doors to discuss certain personnel issues such as performance of county department heads and other employees. However, the salaries and raises of directors and all other county employees are by law a matter of public record, and non-performance based raises cannot legally be discussed in closed session.
In the past prior to the financial meltdown in fall 2008 whenever the Board of Commissioners awarded raises to directors, the commissioners went into closed session, reviewed the performance of that director, had a private discussion on the matter, and then the board came out in open session and took a public vote to award the raise.
This time around, the commissioners never took a public vote to award the raises for the department heads, nor has the matter been discussed publicly in any way.
One commissioner told The Rhinoceros Times that the board was presented in closed session with a list of county directors affected and the amounts of the "salary adjustments." However, the commissioner said they weren't allowed to keep a copy of the list. The lists of the pay increases were collected from the commissioners by county staff at the end of the closed session presentation.
Thankfully for the county from a public relations standpoint, both Guilford County
Manager Brenda Jones Fox and Assistant Manager Sharisse Fuller weren't on the list of directors receiving raises.
In addition to being the county's assistant manager, Fuller is the county's director of human resources the department that conducted the parity studies that are being used to justify the raises.
Fox came under fire earlier this year for finagling a large retirement bonus for herself and other long-time county employees without making that move clear to the commissioners, who voted down the bonuses after they found out about them.
On Friday morning, Nov. 16, The Rhinoceros Times requested a list of the county department heads who have received raises.
The directors who got raises are as follows: Guilford County
Finance Director Reid Baker's salary went from $128,600 to $135,000; Sheriff BJ Barnes went from $137,493 to $142,000; Tax Director Ben Chavis got an increase from $105,600 to $113,000 a year; Security Director Jeff Fowler's salary increased from $80,133 to $87,000; Elections Director George Gilbert went from $97,372 to $99,319; Budget Director Mike Halford went from $112,013 to $120,000; Facilities Director Fred Jones went from $99,961 to $109,000; Child Support/Court Services Director Renee Kenan went from $102,950 to $110,000; Juvenile Detention Director Doug Logan got a raise from $78,917 to $86,500; County Attorney Mark Payne went from $148,600 to $153,000; Emergency Services Director Alan Perdue went from $107,532 to $115,000; Internal Audit Director Martha Rogers went from $101,154 to $110,000; Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen got an increase from $107,438 to $109,586; Clerk to the Board Effie Varitimidis went from $77,850 to $81,500; and Social Services Director Robert Williams went from $125,778 to $140,000.
The raises come at a time when there have been a lot of strange last-minute actions by the out-going Guilford County
government that's currently controlled by Fox and the Democratic majority on the board.
On Monday, Dec. 3, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston is stepping down as a commissioner, and, as a result of the Nov. 6 election, the board will have a Republican majority. Fox is retiring on Feb. 1, which along with the new Board of Commissioners means big leadership changes are coming soon for county government.
In the final months of the reign of Guilford County
by Fox and the Democrats, the county leaders on the way out in concert with some who will still be around have been busy bees, attempting to deal with many matters that seem to involve favors or funding for well connected people and causes.
For instance, Fox had a failed attempt to quickly push through a rezoning of the Guilford County
Prison Farm so the land could be transformed into a corporate park, and, at the Thursday, Nov. 15 commissioners meeting, the board, in a nearly unprecedented move, approved $200,000 in funding for the High Point Area Arts Council to purchase a headquarters in High Point. ...continued on page 2