I heard last week that a formal complaint had been filed to the US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) in Washington, DC in relation to the candidacy of Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen for the office of Lowndes County sheriff. In McQueen’s defense, he possibly became in violation of the federal Hatch Act after he was named interim chief after the firing of Joseph St. John (McQueen was already a candidate for sheriff when he was named interim chief. RW). The Packet office had received several calls last week citing the possible violation. The Hatch Act limits, among other things, the political activities of those in charge of state or local agencies who receive federal funds or grants. Law enforcement is included in this stipulation.
In a related matter concerning The Hatch Act, I had also concluded that Oktibbeha sheriff candidate Rudy Johnson may also be in violation. Johnson, the Republican nominee, had already had a complaint filed against him months ago. However, Johnson has presented a letter of opinion from an attorney for the OSC stating he was not in violation of the Hatch Act.
Several years ago, Packet readers may recall the hoopla surrounding Johnson and his status as Executive Director of the Golden Triangle Planning & Development District. Complaints were filed against him trying to get him to open his records, which many opined should be public records. Johnson maintained that the GTPDD was a private, non-profit (although they do oversee millions of dollars worth of federal funding and grants. RW) and was not subject to public record scrutiny.
In the meantime, Johnson went on to seek a Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion saying the organization was indeed a private, non-profit. Johnson says he was successful and received the opinion. It was this opinion that Johnson presented to the OSC when the complaint was filed that he was in violation of The Hatch Act by being executive director of GTPDD and filing to run for Oktibbeha County sheriff. The OSC concluded he was not in violation due to the AG opinion that GTPDD was a private, non-profit.
There remains a question of whether GTPDD is truly a private, non-profit…but, for now (legally), they are!
Leroy Brooks and Harry Sanders Dicker Over County Employee Pay Raises
At Monday’s Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting, District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks brought up a proposed pay raise of 4% across-the-board for county employees. Brooks had cited the recent (proposed) 3% pay raise for city employee’s as an example of the county needing to make a gesture to its employee’s as well. Brooks had noted that county employee’s had not had a raise during this (current) administration (other than a small hourly raise by some road department workers).
Before discussion started, Brooks made a motion to grant the 4% raise. District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith seconded the motion, saying he would do so for discussion purposes.
Board President and District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders was opposed to an across-the-board pay raise (noting he was certainly for a raise of some sort. He said all supervisors were. RW). Sanders was opposed to the 4% across-the-board, however, because he said it wasn’t fair to lower paid employee’s. Sanders stated he was in favor of a flat amount pay raise instead. “If you give a percentage raise…the guy that’s making $20 an hour gets a larger raise than the guy making $10 an hour. In other words, he gets double the raise”, Sanders said, “that’s not fair. And as time goes by, the difference between the two gets wider and wider!”
Sanders said that any pay raise proposal should come from CFO Dave Basinger and County Administrator Ralph Billingsley during a budget proposal process, when the two submit a proposed budget to the supervisors.
Brooks said he begged to differ.
“Mr. Chairman…I beg your difference. It is not the responsibility…yes it’s the responsibility of Ralph and Dave to recommend a budget. But i’m not willing to relegate my authority to employee’s…for the raise of other employee’s. Now, what you’re saying is halfway true and halfway false. Ultimately, the responsibility rest with this board. To say to force anything on them…that’s a very strong word…and it’s not a valid word. It is our (supervisors) prerogative to give the employee’s a raise. Now, i’m sure that Ralph and Dave will do the right thing because we have them in their trusted position…but at the same time, the ultimate decision rest with us. And what i’m proposing is that they go ahead and put the 4% raise in the total budget, and when they come if we have to modify it, then that’s fine.”
“The other thing is…your argument that a flat across-the-board, if a person makes $20,000 and another makes $10,000, the one making more gets a larger raise…there’s a reason Ronnie Burns (Road Department Manager) makes what he makes versus a road foreman…the reason is, the responsibility that they have…so if that was the case, everybody ought to be making the same thing.”
“So…if your concern is the person at the top making more than the lower paid person, let the people at the top get a 3% raise, and the person at the bottom get a 4% raise. But there is a reason for the wider spread…because of the responsibility of the person at the top.”
The board voted Brooks’ 4% across-the-board pay raise proposal down by a 4-1 vote (it doesn’t mean, though, that a pay raise won’t be included in the final budget proposal. That remains to be considered later. RW) A budget proposal will be submitted by September 15th.
Brooks also wanted a budget meeting before the September 15th deadline. Billingsley and Basinger said they were meeting with department heads next week. Brooks said he would wait to make a motion to set a budget meeting (or hearing) at the next supervisor meeting scheduled for September 6th.
Later, Harry Sanders told me that Brooks was “playing politics” with his raise proposal. He aserted that Brooks was only bringing the proposal up because it was an election year. (Sanders still has two opponents remaining in the November General election, Democrat Willie Petty and Independent Joey Pounders. Brooks must still face Independent Roger Larsen. RW)
Ron Williams can be reached by email at Ronsings2you@aol.com0