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Council members take off the gloves

Republican Councilwoman Rhonda Rhoads tangled with Democratic Councilmen Carl (Buck) Mathes and Carl Duley; Mathes had a thing or two to say to just about everyone except placid Republican Ralph Sherman; Republican Kenneth Saulman took fellow Republican Gary Davis to task a time or two, and nobody got in the way of what Duley had to say.
And, of course, Democrat Alvin Brown was in true Alvin Brown form. He chimed in often with one-liners and at times cryptic comments.
‘Boy, nobody can accuse us of being a rubber stamp!’ he said to no one in particular, as Wednesday’s twilight turned to night and the acrimonious budget setting session wore on.
‘I thought I was at a meeting of the Harper Valley PTA,’ said observer Debbie McClanahan the next day.
She was there in support of her husband, Harrison County patrolman Marty McClanahan, who has logged more than 12 years on the road and earns less than $30,000 a year on the county police force.
The calm was at first shattered when Duley brought up several issues in the budget that, he said, needed to be ‘revisited.’
Those included adding personnel to some staffs, increasing the pay of some county workers, and longevity pay (which some county workers claim is too low to entice employees to stay on the job).
Davis noted that those topics had already been discussed during salary committee meetings, and Rhoads chimed in:
‘Why are we talking about it? We went through this line by line.’
‘We’re just rehashing things,’ Davis answered.
‘Does nobody else want to hear this?’ asked Duley.
No one said anything, so Duley plowed ahead.
‘The $4,000 for the commissioners ‘ I’m not sure this is something we should be doing,’ he said, talking about the council’s earlier OK to add $4,000 to the commissioners’ salary from riverboat infrastructure revenue.
‘You guys voted for it; I didn’t want it the first time,’ Rhoads said, disgustedly.
‘The implication is we’re doing all these things without thinking,’ Davis said to Duley. After a few remarks concerning the highway department and whether an engineering intern should be hired to replace an assistant who recently left, Saulman said to Davis:
‘Why do we want to talk about this?’
Davis said: ‘We never talked about them.’
‘We voted for it,’ Saulman said.
Eventually, funds for the intern, classified as a junior engineer, were approved.
Mathes, a farmer, interjected a bit of calm with this philosophy:
‘I believe in the corn row method. If you get in the wrong row, you turn the damn thing around and get in the right row!’
Duley grinned and said, ‘I’ve done that a time or two; I’ve even fell asleep … ‘
After the discussion switched to another pay proposal, which was interrupted by a large thunder clap, the council ‘revisited’ the commissioners’ extra pay.
Each of the three commissioners next year will earn $20,571, which represents a three-percent increase. But due to extra work created by the influx of riverboat revenue which makes special projects possible, the council had decided to pay the extra $4,000 from those riverboat funds. The idea of having a full-time commissioner also came up but was nixed because the council thought all the work would then fall on that one commissioner’s shoulders.
Wednesday night, Duley moved to remove the extra pay, and that motion was seconded by Saulman. Mathes objected.
‘I think they’re entitled to it myself,’ he said, and his record reflects his support of top-notch pay. He said the money should be paid from the infrastructure account because that’s the fund which pays for most of the extra projects overseen by the commissioners.
‘I think they deserve it,’ Mathes said. ‘If not this, then you ought to make one of them a full-time commissioner.’
But the council voted 5-1 (Mathes opposed, of course) to withdraw the extra pay.
‘I deserve hazard pay,’ Mathes declared.
Another hotly debated issue concerned the five custodians’ pay. Two work at the courthouse, two at the Justice Center and one at the Annex. The salary committee had recommended that since a maintenance manager had been hired to oversee all county buildings, the custodians who previously were in charge no longer had those duties.
The idea was that each of the five did the same work and should be paid the same. The salary committee had suggested that the top salaries be frozen and the others given a three-percent increase to bring them closer in line with the higher salary. That idea was knocked in the head earlier by Sherman, who said it wasn’t fair to freeze anyone’s salary.
But Wednesday night, Brown moved to pay all the custodians enough to bring them closer to the higher salary.
That went nowhere, so Mathes moved to pay the custodians $11.40 an hour, Duley moved to increase the three lower salaries from $10.69 to $11 an hour, Brown seconded the motion, and it passed 5-1.
But that rankled clerk/deputies in the courthouse who earn less, so they questioned the reasoning. A contingent showed up at Monday night’s meeting so the issue turned full circle.
Davis said he’d gotten complaints that the pay raises had been out of line with some others in the courthouse.
Brown said, ‘I thought it was the fair thing to do, but I didn’t know how out of line it would make things. I made a mistake, so I’ll amend it to adopt the salary committee’s recommendation for the custodians.’
Saulman seconded the motion and it passed 4-1, with Sherman opposed as before. Mathes was absent Monday night because he underwent outpatient surgery that day.
He had complained last Wednesday that the new figures offered as salary increases didn’t reflect a three-percent raise and should be higher.
Davis explained that last year there were two extra workdays, so the hourly pay increase is figured on less hours this year.
Sheriff’s deputies also turned out to voice concern that their pay has not kept pace with other officers in neighboring Floyd County Sheriff’s Dept. or the New Albany Police Dept. Spokesman Brad Shepherd, captain of the sheriff’s department, said the force has received ‘no substantial pay raise,’ yet the dangers and workload have increased considerably.
He said the force therefore is becoming a training ground again, as it did prior to 1992 when Sheriff Michael Deatrick, then a councilman, successfully lobbied for increases to stop the turnover.
‘The department is a pretty young department,’ Shepherd said. ‘We feel we need some incentive to stay here or we will become a training department again. The guys next door start out at $30,000 to $35,000 a year.’
He said riverboat revenue from Harrison County is paying for the salaries, and Davis reminded the officers that the 10 officers paid here with riverboat dollars couldn’t be on the force otherwise.
‘For a long time, we’ve been told not to use riverboat money for salaries,’ Davis said.
Davis explained that the council this year can only increase the tax levy by 4.4 percent instead of the five percent allowed in the past. The three-percent increases leave only 1.4 percent for all of the other rising costs.
‘I sympathize with what you’re saying, but there isn’t any money,’ he said.
Brown reminded the officers that the county contributes 18.2 percent of their pay to retirement, and Davis said officers also receive overtime, double pay for working on a holiday and longevity pay.
Rhoads said earlier, ‘My boss always told me if I don’t like the pay, I could go someplace else, I’m sorry … ‘
Mathes, who was fulfilling responsibilities at the Harrison County Fair during the week of department head hearings, questioned several of the salaries adopted earlier.
Rhoads told him: ‘We had the department heads come in. You weren’t here, Buck. It should be department heads coming in here and making these statements. Now, at the end, the process was in place so we could get this hammered out.
‘I’m not trying to be disrespectful to anybody, but if you had been here to listen to these department heads talk … ‘
Mathes moved ahead, unscathed.
‘I’m sympathetic to your plea,’ he told the officers and moved to increase the base pay to $30,000 (from the $29,453 approved earlier).
Duley said he thought the police officers deserved the increase, but he would abstain because his son is an officer on the force.
The motion died for lack of a second.
The council agreed that next year, there will be no salary committee. Everyone on the council will participate from the beginning.
Monday night, Duley read the proposed budget line item by line item. The final reading is schedule for the council’s Sept. 27, 7 p.m., planning session.