The coincidence was too much for the public not to notice.
Newly elected Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree had barely moved into his office when he asked for a raise that would have bumped him up on par with the pay of the retired veteran he’d just replaced. County officials there planned to consider Roundtree’s request for a raise in secret, but fortunately they later held the discussion in the open and turned it down (through Augusta’s usual method: gridlock failure).
Unbeknownst to them, at about the same time, Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson noticed a disparity in the salary of Sheriff Clay Whittle, who has held office since 1995. At the start of each year, county officials compute the salaries of the county’s elected officials based on their base pay, any supplements they receive for other services they provide, and annual longevity increases.
What Johnson found is that while the county’s other constitutional officers received an increase in their base pay just more than a decade ago, the base for sheriff wasn’t changed. As a result, Whittle’s starting pay rate was nearly $20,000 lower than the county’s other constitutional officers.
Rightly, county officials plan to approve an increase in that base, bringing Whittle’s pay in line with other elected officials. Discussions on the increase were held this past Tuesday in an open committee meeting, and the full commission will consider and vote on the plan in open session next week. That’s the way it should be.
It’s also important to note that unlike Roundtree, Whittle didn’t ask for a raise. He’s happy to get it, of course; who wouldn’t be? But he also recalls being in Roundtree’s shoes. When Whittle first took office, he went from being a veteran chief deputy to a “rookie” sheriff, at far lower pay than his veteran predecessor. That first paycheck, he says, was a shock – especially when he took it home and had to explain to his wife that they’d just been through a hard-fought election campaign for him to take a pay cut.
Fortunately for Roundtree, even his “rookie” pay is far more than he made working for the Richmond County school system’s public safety department. Surely he’ll survive.
And if Roundtree does even remotely as good a job as Whittle has, perhaps voters will keep him around as long and, likewise, he’ll earn longevity raises, too.