That old saying comes to mind in light of Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee’s tin-eared declaration to an MDJ reporter last week that he hadn’t heard any objections from the public to his plan to give elected county officials (including himself) a 3 percent raise.
Even Lee now admits that he has heard plenty about the raise since his plan was reported in Sunday’s MDJ.
“Since the article in the paper and the TV station picked it up, I’ve heard from quite a few folks who would rather us not do that,” he said.
No surprise there, not with the economy still in a slump and memories still fresh of the 2011 decision by Lee’s commission to raise property taxes by 1.51 mills, or 15.7 percent. And not with the public’s sour outlook on public officials in general, who these days are only slightly more popular than lawyers, lobbyists and journalists.
LEE AND THE COMMISSION gave rank-and-file employees a 3 percent raise in November, their first in five years. Prior such requests have generally attracted little controversy when times were good. But that was then, and this is now.
Lee, who now earns $129,877 per year, would see his salary rise to $133,773 if the proposal is approved.
His proposal would affect the tax commissioner, deputy tax commissioner, administrative specialist to the tax commissioner and executive secretary to the tax commissioner, the chief Superior Court judge and nine Superior Court judges, the chief State Court judge and the five associate State Court judges, Probate Court judge chief deputy Superior Court clerk, chief deputy State Court clerk, Superior Court clerk, State Court clerk, Probate Court clerk, sheriff, chief deputy sheriff, chief investigator, executive assistant to the sheriff and the solicitor general.
The raises would ultimately have to be approved by the Cobb state legislative delegation. State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb), the new chair of that delegation, has said those who stand to get the raises should notify him by month’s end to let him know whether they want them.
To their credit, Cobb’s four district commissioners (Bob Ott, JoAnn Birrell, Helen Goreham and Lisa Cupid) were quick to publicly turn down the proposed raises. Likewise, Sheriff Neil Warren (now making $137,469) and Cobb Solicitor General Barry Morgan (now making $140,905) said they would not seek the raises.
DOES THE CHAIRMAN have a short memory these days? So it seems. He told the MDJ on Jan. 18 that he wanted to hear from the district commissioners before deciding whether to push for the raises. But it turns out that he already had heard from them.
According to emails the chairman willingly shared with the MDJ on Thursday, Millie Rogers, his administrative assistant, had emailed the district commissioners late on the afternoon of Jan. 3, saying, “Chairman Tim Lee has asked that the attached memo from him to the Cobb Legislative Delegation be forwarded to you for your information concerning the 3% Pay Increases for Cobb County Employees.”
Northeast Cobb Commissioner Birrell emailed back five minutes later, saying, “… I do not support a pay raise for (the) BOC at this time.” Northwest Cobb Commissioner Goreham soon emailed, “I agree with Commissioner Birrell,” to which Southeast Cobb Commissioner Ott added, “I agree also with Commissioners Birrell and Goreham.”
The fourth commissioner, Ms. Cupid, was not sworn into office until the day after the email exchange.
ALTHOUGH CRITICISM of the proposed raises was widespread this week, a good case can be made for the raises for the non-elected public safety workers involved: the chief deputy (Lynda Coker), chief investigator (Col. Milton Beck) and executive assistant to the sheriff, Nancy Bodiford. Warren points out that all other Cobb department heads and employees had their salaries hiked last November. And it’s also true that the county is in a competitive situation when it comes to filling those and other public safety positions. If we do not offer competitive pay and benefits, we stand to lose highly qualified personnel to other departments elsewhere. That’s not the case with the elected officials on Lee’s list, most of who get “hired” by persuading the public to vote for them.
Public safety is a core component of what local government is supposed to provide. Cobb voters through the years have wisely and generously seen fit to approve SPLOST referendums to build and upgrade the jail and see to other public safety needs. And as a result Cobb has first-rate public safety services and facilities that are the envy of most of Georgia and the Southeast. It makes sense that the pay of those who put their lives on the line each day protecting the residents of Cobb should remain competitive.
LEE DIDN’T DO MUCH to help his cause by bringing up the raises at the same time the MDJ reported that the commission bought what was first described as a snow plow, although county spokesmen later stressed that the pricey truck involved is a salt spreader with a plow attachment.
But not only does snow rarely accumulate in Cobb, the truck would be used to clear Cobb Community Transit parking lots, not local roads. The Mack truck-type salt spreader/snowplow would come with a $233,618 price tag. Yes, the feds would pay 80 percent of that, but Cobb would still have to pay the rest, some $47,000, plus maintenance.
It clearly would be cheaper to just rent or lease such equipment when needed — or as far as the parking lots are concerned, to just wait and let the sun do the job for free.
THOSE on the list of pay-hike recipients making $100,000 are by no means “rich,” but aren’t exactly hurting either. We suspect most of them won’t go hungry if they have to wait another year or two for a raise. With public sentiment clearly against the proposed pay increases, let’s hope that Cobb legislators look long and hard at them if and when the requests arrive, rather than just waving them on through.
HOW FAR WE HAVE COME since 2011, when Lee claimed the county had cut spending to the bone and the only reasonable option to make ends meet was a 15 percent tax hike on the backs of Cobb residents.
Now two years later it’s raises all around for employees, but only a five-year-plan to glacially cut the tax rate back to where it started from. That smacks of the political arrogance and distrust of government that is epidemic in this country. Lee and too many other officials seem to be forgetting who’s “throwing the party” — the taxpayers.
Cobb has always been one of the best-run counties in the country, but it doesn’t mean it can’t do better. And what better way to start rebuilding the public’s trust than finding a way to give taxpayers a full “pay increase” (via a tax millage rollback) before our elected officials give themselves one?
ALL SEVEN MEMBERS of the Cobb school board — including its sole Democratic member, David Morgan — have agreed to be on a panel at the Feb. 2 Cobb GOP’s First Saturday Breakfast. The board will share its plans and answer questions, reports local party chair Joe Dendy of the event, which starts at 8:30 a.m. at the party’s HQ on Roswell Street.
COBB SUPERIOR COURT Judge Mary Staley was elected (and on the first ballot, no less) as president-elect of the Council of Superior Court Judges of the State of Georgia this week at the group’s winter conference and seminar.
LATE WORD on Friday that retired pharmacist and former state Rep. Bill Atkins (R-Smyrna), would like to be appointed to the empty seat on the Cobb Development Authority.
“After all, I did represent a lot of south Cobb in the General Assembly and have lived there for 47 years,” said Atkins, who is brother-in-law of former Cobb Commission Chair Bill Byrne and formerly headed the state’s Drug and Narcotics Agency.
THE MARIETTA KIWANIS CLUB is staying put. Members of Cobb’s biggest civic club voted 92-27 by secret ballot on Thursday to keep meeting at the Marietta Hilton Conference Center rather than move elsewhere. The results were announced to members after the meeting via email, but not until members spent the early afternoon quizzing each other as to whether they knew the outcome.
One of the club’s most popular members put his own spin on the vote.
“What I heard was that we voted to revoke our rule allowing women members,” he joked to Around Town.
“Since they are the ones who mostly show up, we would need less space and could now move to the back of Johnnie MacCrackens and start drinking and smoking again during the meetings! And dues would be covered by splitting the profits from booting cars in the back parking lot with the owners,” he added.
Now there’s an idea. ...