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2015 Clay County Missouri Salary Commission grants COLA Increases

According to Missouri Statute, non-chartered Counties like Clay County, Missouri are required to hold a salary commission on odd numbered years. The members of the salary commission should be made up of the recorder of deeds, the county clerk, prosecuting attorney, sheriff, county commissioner, collector, treasurer, assessor, auditor, and public administrator. The coroner is mentioned in statute, but Clay County uses the Jackson County medical examiner.

It’s a unique commission because when these officeholders meet they have the ability to give the office that they occupy a raise. (Sheriff and prosecutor salaries are determined by other state laws, but are still allowed to attend the commission.) The raise is not realized in their term of office and begins on the next term. Statute requires the salary commission to meet at least once before November 13.

Clay County’s salary commission met on October 28. You can watch it below on our YouTube channel:

Those attending the meeting this year were Megan Thompson (Clay County Clerk), Katee Porter (Recorder of Deeds), County Commissioner Owen and Ridgeway, Presiding Commissioner Jerry Nolte, Ted Graves (County Treasurer), Debbie Gwin (Public Administrator), Carol McCaslin (Clay County Auditor), and Lydia McEvoy (Clay County Collector).

The commission is required to nominate a chairperson before it starts. In past salary commissions the chair was given to the prosecutor or sheriff because their salaries are not up for discussion. The chair usually doesn’t vote unless a tie vote occurs on the motion. This year neither were in attendance, so County Treasurer Graves was chosen for the responsibility.

McEvoy made the first motion which sparked quite a bit of discussion.

“The payroll department of Clay County Missouri is hereby directed to implement the approved motions of the 2013 salary commission to [inaudible] that all office holders taking office in 2015 were to be given increases in base salary equal to the COLAs (cost of living adjustment) paid to county employees in the budget years of January 1 through December 31, 2013 and January 1 through December 31, 2014. To date only part of the 2014 COLAs have been paid to the office holders that took office in 2015 and this should be immediately corrected. Because this order of the current salary commission merely restates a previous order of a duly appointed salary commission and to avoid a mid-term pay increase the 2014 increase referenced in this motion shall be clearly made retroactive to the beginning of each effective term of the officeholders current term of office less any amounts already paid.”

This connects to an issue that was brought up by Recorder of Deeds Katee Porter back in early September. According to Porter’s testimony given at that Commission meeting, she had been overpaid due to miscalculations of her salary. Porter expressed concern that the salary issues could’ve been affected by the 2013 commission. It also seems that Clay County’s human resources department may share some of the blame in the miscalculations of salary. The County is hoping for better clarification from the state of Missouri on the issue in the near future.

County legal counsel Kevin Graham stepped in quickly after the motion and advised that McEvoy’s motion could not be made because the current salary commission has no legal authority to affect any decisions made by the 2013 commission. The primary role of this salary commission is future changes in salaries.

Discussion continued for several minutes about the motion and the past salary commission. One of the challenges with the 2013 commission is that is was rescheduled numerous times. The Northland New was given a link to one of the multiple meetings from 2013. If interested you can watch that here:

Commissioner Owen expressed some concerns (20:50 into the 2015 salary commission video) about the history of the salary commission process and the future salaries of officeholders in Clay County.

“Ever since the salary commission has come from the legislature, it has, in Clay County, become a political football. Many times over the years the salary commission was used to punish certain elected officials. When you compare Clay County to other first class counties in the state of Missouri we’re at the bottom of the list.”

A document was passed around by County Treasurer Graves that listed the salaries of various office holders in other first class counties. There are a total of 19 first class counties in the state of Missouri. You can see the county classifications by clicking here. We took the document and created a Google Sheet (spreadsheet) for anyone that is curious. We also omitted Counties below $1,000,000,000 in assessed valuation that was on the list. You can access that online spreadsheet here.

The following is computed from that spreadsheet:

Average of Elected Officeholders Excluding Prosecutor and Sheriff Assessed Valuation Population (2014)
Average Clay: $64,859.33 $3,810,273,656.00 233,000
Average Platte: $65,532.78 $2,290,964,055.00 94,000
Average Green: $75,859.78 $4,371,218,950.00 285,000
Average Jasper: $69,180.00 $1,554,978,125.00 117,000
Average Boone: $90,283.00 $2,513,991,271.00 172,000

There is quite a bit of variance in Clay County office holder salaries from position to position. All of the other counties on the spreadsheet have consistent salaries. For example, Platte County’s office holders all make $65,755 with the exception of associate Commissioner at $63,755. State statute requires associate commissioners to make $2,000 less than presiding commissioners.

It’s worth noting that Clay County Commissioner salaries are at $52,481 and Presiding Commissioners is at $54,481. If you take those positions out of the average computed above, the average jumps up to $68,110 for all the other elected offices in Clay County.

A discussion began about whether or not to create parity between officeholder salaries similar to other counties. The challenge lies in the fact that various offices are elected in different cycles, so any adjustment for parity would require the next salary commission in 2017 to follow through on the decision.

Another motion was made by Nolte in an attempt to move the meeting along.

“I move that all offices subject to the salary commission receive an adjustment to their respoective salaries in an amount equal to but not more than the annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) if any given to the employees of Clay ounty for the budget years 2015 and 2016. Such adjustments shall not be paid to any current officeholder in their current term, but shall accrue annually to the salary of the respective offices and shall be paid as the adjusted annual salary to the successor officeholder following the office’s next election.”

The vote on this motion was Porter (No), Thompson (No), Nolte (yes), Ridgeway (yes), Owen (no), McEvoy (yes), McCaslin (no), Gwinn (yes). This resulted in a tie which forced Graves to vote, he voted no. The motion failed.

A motion was then made by County Auditor McCaslin for the meeting to recess and meet at a later date in the hopes of getting more clarification on issues stemming from the 2013 commission. Some of the elected officials present were concerned about making a decision with the question still unanswered. The vote to recess failed.

After the failed vote to recess, County Recorder of Deeds Katee Porter made a motion:

“I move that all offices subject to the salary commission receive no adjustment to their respective salaries for the budget years 2015 and 2016.”

The motion failed with the following votes: Porter (yes), Thompson (yes), Nolte (yes), Ridgeway (no), Owen (no), McEvoy (no), Graves (did not vote), McCaslin (no), Gwinn (no).

It seemed as if the salary commission at this point was stalled. After some discussion, it became apparent the point of contention that caused McCaslin to vote no on the first motion lied with the previous salary commissions inability to properly file the report of compensation that it submitted to the state of Missouri.

Nolte’s original motion was made again by McCaslin this time. This motion, which gave COLAs to the elected offices for the next term, was passed by the following vote: Porter (no), Thompson (no), Nolte (yes), Ridgeway (yes), Owen (no), McEvoy (yes), Graves (did not vote), McCaslin (yes), and Gwinn (yes).

Author’s Note: I highly encourage any curious party to watch the full video of the salary commission. There’s a lot to the discussion that occurred. If you watch the video there are several points where the video seems to be edited. The multiple videos that I shot have been spliced together. Nothing is missing other than a second at each splice. This is due to the camera I use to capture the videos. I’m limited to a 29 minute video segment, and I try to be mindful of that so as not to lose important parts that add to the discussion.

About Andrew Palmer