Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

A lengthy discussion on the elimination of a pay matrix system for elected officials will lead to an eventual workshop session for numerous elected officials and commissioners court.

Orange County Commissioners met in its regularly Tuesday afternoon session and an enthusiastic discussion occurred once the topic of abolishing the current elected officials pay matrix system was reached.

This topic was originally brought up briefly during pre-budget talks in the summer of 2015 and even touched on at a recent commissioners court meeting when the topic of Orange County Commissioners taking a pay cut was mentioned by a county commissioner.

Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton presented the topic and stated he was searching for a way to bring the pay scale for Orange County elected officials into line with one another and not have such disparity in salary between people doing the same job, such as Constables, Justices of the Peace, and County Commissioners. This would also potentially impact the Sheriff and County Judge.

“I’m not a fan of having an elected official pay matrix,” Carlton said. “I think it should be the job of commissioners court to set the salary and have all JP’s (Justices of the Peace) make the same amount, Constables make the same amount and not have such disparities.”

Carlton was seeking to get commissioners court to agree to abolish the elected officials pay matrix system and then hold workshops to determine what those salaries might be for each position.

“We can use the first term pay scale (for each position) as the base to decide on what the salary should be,” Carlton explained. “We’re not setting the salary, we will just build it from that first term base.”

John Banken, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 3, voiced his displeasure with the order of the process.

“Let’s set the salaries first and then vote to abolish the (elected officials) pay matrix,” Banken said. “I think we are putting the cart before the horse by doing it this way. When these people ran for office, they knew what they would earn going in.”

David Dubose, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 1, agreed.

“Let’s not rush it,” he stated. “I think we need to have a workshop on it. I don’t have a problem taking a pay cut, but I think this is wrong.”

Judge Derry Dunn, Orange County Justice of the Peace in Precinct 2, who will soon begin serving a fourth term as Justice of the Peace, asked if his salary could potentially be “bumped back” to what a first term Justice of the Peace, such as Joy Dubose Simonton in Precinct 3, earns. He was told it could happen, although none of the salaries were set at this time. He also asked if any consideration for terms of service would be given and was told yes.

“The way it works now, you get a pay raise when you get re-elected to office,” Dubose said to everyone in attendance. “The citizens of Orange County know this. If we have the money, these people could get a raise, but the last two terms we haven’t given any raises because we couldn’t afford it.”

Mark Philpott, Orange County Constable of Precinct 3, has the unique experience of working for the county currently and having previously served as a member of city council in Bridge City, where he was tasked with all aspects of working on city budget each year, including salaries.

“All we (elected officials) are trying to do is trying to raise our kids and pay our bills,” Philpott explained. “When we do a good job and the people re-elect us, that reflects on us and that reflects on (commissioners court) too. I wish you would reconsider this.

“When I used to be on city council, I did the best I could to be fair to everyone,” he added. “I feel like if you do (something) for one, then you need to do for all or else do for none.”

Carlton stated the reason he wanted to abolish the pay matrix first was “to force” commissioners court to tackle the task in the coming weeks as budget talks continue and leave little chance of the item falling by the wayside.

“It is our job to set salaries,” Banken said in agreement with Carlton. “It’s not our job to take a meat cleaver to it.”

Jody Crump, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 4, was in agreement with other commissioners and many in the audience that commssioners court might need to approach this issue from another direction.

“I agree with the sentiment through the entire room that we need to have a sit-down session and all discuss it,” Crump said. “Even if it takes all day. We can let each official come in and present their case and talk about it.”

Carlton opted to let his motion to abolish the elected officials pay matrix stand, but the motion failed for lack of a second motion to call for a vote.

Dubose then motion to hold a workshop and set the salaries first and then, after salaries were set, abolish the elected officials pay matrix system. The motion was approved by a vote of 5-0.

In other court news, commissioners approved a motion making changes to the Orange County “disaster pay” policy.

According to Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, the current policy, which was established in 2006, states both exempt and non-exempt employees are considered eligible for this during a declared disaster and would receive double their hourly rate during this time.

The topic was discussed earlier in the day on Tuesday during a public workshop session of Orange County Commissioners.

Carlton presented the change of policy as employees would receive regular pay for the first 40 hours of work during the disaster, like a normal work week, and then an overtime rate of one-and-a-half times their normal hourly rate for everything worked after the first 40 hours in that same work week.

Part of the reason is because it is unclear whether FEMA will continue to repay counties at its current rate of 75 percent for declared disasters on its current reimbursement schedule.

“I think this is a fair way to do it for the tax-payers and it reduces some of the risk to the county as well,” Carlton said. “And it makes the policy more well defined.”

A double signature process by a county official and department head will, in theory, help prevent any potential abuse of the system.

“There are some issues with this policy,” said Barry Burton, Orange County Commissioner of Precinct 2. “But I hope if someone comes up with a better plan, then we will revisit the topic.”

The motion was approved by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner John Banken for the dissenting vote.