Ticket to ride
Back in ancient history when the female elected officials sued the county for pay parity, the county commissioners were getting $500 per month for a car allowance. When the county caved the day before commissioners were scheduled to start depositions in the law suit, the $500 per month was rolled into their salary and the women were given the following pay: tax assessor- same as commissioners; county clerk and district clerk- 97% of commissioners salary; and county treasurer-95% of commissioners salary. This salary schedule is in effect to this day, and is around $100,000 annually for each position. It is interesting to note that in 2006, becoming effective 2007, Commissioners tied their salary raises to that of State District Judges whose salary is set by state legislators. But wait, state legislators, who are normally known for their salary frugality since they make hardly anything themselves in salary, have their retirement tied to state district judges salary. This is the incentive for the legislature to raise the state district judges’ salary. At the time in 2006, it was discussed that state district judges didn’t get raises but about every six years.
Lately, a couple of commissioners have been complaining that it’s been too long and it’s time for them to have a raise. So now they want to go off the state district judge salary schedule. Of course it’s like one former elected official in Fort Bend County, Glory Hopkins, who was district clerk for 20 years and was the female official who organized the lawsuit for pay parity, said in a letter she wrote during that time in 2006: “Our Commissioners have a much higher self-esteem quotient … and are so impressed with themselves that they want to tie their salaries to the base salary of State District Court Judges!
“County judges and commissioners must get filled with blinding self-importance at training camp, because they spend most of their terms in office looking in a mirror admiring their own reflections. They learn the definition of a commissioner is being self-employed while picking up a county paycheck, and probably spend a lot of time laughing at the poor taxpaying fools back home.”
So we discover that our commissioners want to tie their salary increases to that of state district judges when it is convenient for them but to disregard that when it “takes too long.” Commissioners are currently talking about a 2.35% salary increase for themselves and other elected officials. Exception: they don’t want to give a salary increase to state district judges, county court at law judges and the district attorney all of whom receive both county pay and state pay, but that’s a whole nother story.
Since the topic of commissioners pay schedule is being discussed, I took a look at commissioners monthly expense reports. You remember I mentioned earlier that their former $500 a month car allowance was rolled into their salaries after the attorney general ruled it was illegal for them to receive an allowance plus free gas, batteries, tires, etc. So commissioners rolled that into their salary and agreed to turn in mileage only when they travelled outside of Fort Bend County. They did that for about a year, but the next year, realizing they were leaving money on the table, they came back and decided they could be reimbursed for mileage inside the county. For example, Pct. 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers, that bastion of penny-pinching (when it’s his own money, or campaign contributions) charges the taxpayers mileage to attend commissioners court every Tuesday.
But the king of expenses is Pct. 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage. Commissioner Prestage spent a total of an extra $10,200.34 for 7-1-2011 to 7-1-2012; $3,179.04 for mileage expense and $7,021.30 for other travel expense (i.e. rental car, conference registration, hotel, and airline.) He went on county business, conferences and continuing education to Fort Worth, Portland Oregon, Washington D.C., Decatur, Hill County, and Pittsburgh.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers is the next big spender logging $6,879.06. He turned in $4,904.56 in mileage and spent $1,974.50 going to conferences or continuing education courses.
Commissioners Richard Morrison (Pct. 1) and James Patterson (Pct. 4) and County Judge Bob Hebert all spent less than $3,500 each.
Commissioner Patterson spent $3,342.34–$2,893.44 for mileage and $448.90 for travel.
Commissioner Morrison spent $3,029.29–$2,233.39 for mileage and $795.90 for travel.
County Judge Bob Hebert spent a total of $2,355.28-$659.00 for mileage and $1,696.28 for travel.
I’ll discuss this in more detail in upcoming weeks.
Now commissioners are considering adding a whole new department to the county without benefit of a public hearing or even public discussion. It is a department to deal with transportation problems, like fleet issues, certainly not their own travel expenses. My concern as a taxpayer is … who is going to head this department, what kind of credentials must they have (foc-friends of commissioners), what is the budget for the department, and how much money will it save? These are driving questions that need to be answered.
We’ll delve into more transportation next week.