The Aug. 19 Board of Supervisors’ meeting was a humdinger. The place was packed with the biggest audience I’ve seen in a long time. Most of the people were there because Assessor Anna Camacho had alerted them to pay hikes for county department heads that had been “baked” into the budget for 2109-20.
According to information obtained by Camacho from the Arizona Association of Counties, twelve department heads received salary increases. Six of these were for less than one percent. Three of them, however, were for more than 20 percent.
None of the elected officials received salary increases. The increases were never discussed publicly as part of the budget process.
District 2 Supervisor Duce Minor said he was not aware of these salary increases. District 1 Supervisor D.L. Wilson and District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin both said they were aware of these increases.
County Administrator Ron Drake said he was reluctant to discuss personnel matters like salaries in public.
Deputy County Attorney Ryan Dooley said that, if the salaries were set in the budget the county adopted, then those are the salaries for the department heads. If that’s the case, then there may be little that can be done about these salary increases. What’s done is done.
The question now becomes how to prevent this sort of thing in the future.
The Town of Parker may have offered a solution. Back in the mid-2000s, it was discovered then-Town Manager Lanny Sloan had granted a 40 percent pay hike over two years to a town employee who was a friend of his. This was without the knowledge or approval of the town council.
Needless to say, when the council found out about this, they were not happy. They saw this as an abuse of the system of merit pay increases.
What the town council eventually did was they created new rules for merit pay increases. They also put a cap on how large merit pay increases could be over the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) that the town might grant in a given year. This has restored confidence in the merit pay system without the need to discuss employee salaries in public.
Perhaps the county should consider something like this for their employees and department heads. It would go a long way to restoring some of the public confidence that was broken with the current pay increase situation.
Of course, this isn’t the only possible solution. La Paz County may want to ask other counties for advice, or go to the County Supervisors’ Association or the Arizona Association of Counties. I’m sure they can find all kinds of ideas on how to do pay increases for department heads better.
The one thing they shouldn’t do is nothing. If one thing came out of the Aug. 19 meeting, it’s that many people in the county think the system of salary increases is broken. It needs to be fixed for them to have confidence in what the county is doing.
To paraphrase an old adage, “If it’s broke, you better fix it if you know what’s good for you.”