The second recommendation was to get rid of the automatic cost of living adjustment (COLA) equal to a percent of the Consumer Price Index. Wood said this was important because wage and salary increases generally represent one of the greatest deviations from continuation budgets. Not only do COLAs run contrary to the merit-based compensation system Wood is trying to get the county to adopt, Wood said the commissioners should be making decisions each year about compensation, based on existing economic and budgetary conditions. Good policies shouldn’t be amended every year.
Members of the board said this policy was intended to benefit staff at the top of the hierarchy. While substantial for somebody earning only $30,000, Commissioner Mike Fryar said it was not needed by those making $200,000 or more. Commissioner Ellen Frost was dead-set against removing the COLAs. She felt everybody at the county worked hard enough, day in, day out, to merit a raise, whether they were police officers risking their lives or restaurant inspectors having to inform proprietors their businesses would have to close. Many employees had emailed the commissioners begging them not to touch their COLAs.
Commissioner Al Whitesides supported moving to a merit-based system, but he cautioned the infrastructure was not yet in place. The county needed to draft evaluation criteria and link them to pay increases, train staff how to conduct evaluations, and communicate the changes to staff. No employee evaluations have been conducted in the county in recent history. It was suggested, but not advised, that the county develop a hybrid compensation system. In the end, the board defeated Wood’s second recommendation 6-1, Fryar opposed.
A third proposal asked the commissioners to consider empowering the county manager to dismiss any employee found to be guilty of egregious offenses, like stealing. The existing ordinance requires a third, pending offense before dismissal; Wood wanted to keep that policy for less serious matters while allowing for the immediate removal of anybody committing offenses that pose, “a major operational issue, significant financial impacts, damage to the reputation of the county,” or anything else that may cause that level of a threat.
Following public comment, Wood assured the change would not in any way impact due process. Only Frost voted against it; she didn’t like the ambiguous language, even though Newman tried to explain how restrictive language leads to creative workarounds. He said things are coming out in indictments that nobody would have imagined while drafting an ordinance. Commissioner Robert Pressley was counted as having voted in the affirmative because he had to step out for a moment.
The fourth amendment would further insulate the audit director from threats and retaliation. It would give the power of disciplining her exclusively to the County Audit Committee. This item was considered by all on the board to be sufficiently time-critical to warrant immediate unanimous support.
In Other Damage Control –
The commissioners received an update on the development of a universal purchasing manual and contract tracking system. Federal investigators have indicted former members of county management for, among other things, misusing purchasing cards, using other employees’ credit cards, purchasing whole life insurance policies without authorization, and demanding junkets from a contractor. The scandal over the contractor was grounds for yet another agenda item in which the county washed its hands of any involvement with the party that hosted the junkets.
In attendance were about twenty people, many of whom held signs demanding a forensic audit and encouraging others to vote Republican. Yelton spoke on almost every matter, about how leadership should have and should in the future take his advice.