Personnel matters dominate commisioner’s court
Personnel matters dominated the discussions at the regular meeting of the Orange County Commissioners’ Court on Monday afternoon.
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux announced salaries of elected officials must be determined and posted in the newspaper by Sept. 12 by statute. Furthermore, salaries cannot be increased or decreases once they are published.
John Banken, Precinct 3 commissioner, said the pay matrix was adopted in 2008 and the county is not following it. “To me, it’s the same as a contract. If we’re not following it we need to do away with the matrix,” he said. Banken gave an example of precinct constables all doing the same job with the same salaries.
Thibodeaux said there should be a set salary for all elected officials and not follow the matrix. He added he’s serving in his fifth term as county judge and is being paid as a third term judge. “It leaves quite a bit left on the table and that’s okay,” Thibodeaux said. He also said he sometimes received chastisement from the public for elected officials receiving a pay raise, but he wouldn’t keep the same salary he started with when he began the job 20 years ago. Additionally, elected officials salaries have been frozen, he said. On the other hand, Thibodeaux believes the matrix has worked well for county employees.
Sheirff Keith Merritt said he agreed the matrix wasn’t working correctly and that the county sheriff shouldn’t be on the matrix. Merritt is of the opinion the county sheriff’s salary should be adjusted upon the highest paid employee in the department. For instance, the chief deputy is in the union and his salary is set by the commissioners court which is equal to a $10,000 difference between his and the sheriff’s. “It has always existed,” Merritt said. “I’m not griping about the amount of my salary. I’m griping that the sheriff shouldn’t be making less than the chief deputy.”
Banken said he agreed with the sheriff, and he didn’t have a problem giving him a raise, but it wouldn’t be fair to give one elected official a raise and not the others. Merritt replied other elected officials are where they belong in the matrix while he is in his fifth term as sheriff. His time served as a constable was carried forward. “Actually I’m in my sixth term because of my unexpired term,” he said.
David Dubose, Precinct 1 commissioner, said he agreed that Merritt is underpaid and he proposed his salary be raised two steps to be more than the chief deputy’s for a fifth term sheriff which would put Merritt at $104,000 a year. During a roll call vote, Dubose and Owen Burton, Precinct 2 commissioner, voted yes for the raise while Banken and Jody Crump, Precicnt 4 comissioner, voted no to the raise. Thibodeaux voted no to break the tie. Thibodeaux said he supported raising Merritt’s salary one step up, but not the the fifth term pay since no one else in the county is being paid for a fifth term. “If we do it for one we have to do it for all,” Thibodeaux said.
Things then got testy for a moment when Thibodeaux asked Merritt if he had a problem. Merritt said he has always had a problem with the matrix. Thibodeaux proposed giving Merrittt a $96,000 pay raise instead and a total compensation package of $99,890. He said that would pay him $10,500 more than any incoming county judge. When the roll call was taken, Dubose and Burton voted yes, Banken and Crump voted no, with Thibodeaux voting yes to break the tie.
Mark Philpott, Precinct 3 constable, asked the court if the county was still going with the matrix or was it doing away with it. Thibodeaux said the county was still following the matrix.
Philpott then asked if elected officials salaries were still frozen. Thibodeaux answered yes.
In other county business, janitorial services in the county were awarded to Members Building Maintenance LLC, based on the recommendation of the selection committee consisting of Crump, Maintenance Supervisor Mark Wimberley and Purchasing Agent Connie Cassidy. Nine vendors contacted the county about janitorial services. Four applied.
The contracting company submitted a $166,814 annual bid. Crump estimates the county is currently spending more than $319,000 a year for county personnel to clean. He said the county will save $112,000 in salaries and benefits by using Members Building Maintenance. Thibodeaux asked Crump how many will lose their jobs. Crump said potentially seven would lose their jobs. There are currently eight janitorial employees on the county payroll. The company would begin on October 1, 2014. One county employee would remain as a floater to man the front desk at the county administration building and to perform other tasks. The remaining employees may apply to Members Building Maintenance. Dubose said this sends a bad message to the remaining county employees their jobs can be contracted out.
When the vote was taken, Crump, Banken and Burton voted yes while Thibodeaux and Dubose voted against it. After the vote, Thibodeaux said it’s not the employees fault because the county has gotten into a financial bind.
The court approved hiring Myra Miller as a part-time Veterans’ Benefit Coordinator, but for a salary less than originally requested. Miller said she only wants to work 20 hours per week.
Banken said Miller’s salary should be for $8.76 as other part-time employees and not for the requested $12.70. “There are too many working for the same amount. Either raise it for everybody or stick to the policy,” Banken said. “Either we go by the policy or do away with the policy.” Burton said Miller has already been trained for the job. Crump asked why not hire Miller at full-time and work her 20 hours a week. Thibodeaux said she can designated full-time and designated the hours worked. Banken said the county’s finances will never catch up if the court doesn’t start with something. Jill Shores, personnel director, said part-time employees work less than 29 hours a week at $8.76 an hour. Banken proposed hiring Miller at $8.75 an hour per the county policy. The motion passed.
During citizens comments, resident David W. Smith of the Texas State Militia said there has been an incursion on the border at El Paso. Militia units are standing ready to be positioned to assist military personnel.