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Sheriff's raise a matter of equity

Posted: February 17, 2013 - 1:08am  |  Updated: February 17, 2013 - 9:34am
File photo  Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle talks to the media during the raid on the Evans residence of Hugo Diaz in November 2011. County officials plan to vote Tuesday to raise Whittle's base pay.  File photo Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle talks to the media during the raid on the Evans residence of Hugo Diaz in November 2011. County officials plan to vote Tuesday to raise Whittle's base pay.
File photo Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle talks to the media during the raid on the Evans residence of Hugo Diaz in November 2011. County officials plan to vote Tuesday to raise Whittle's base pay.
File photo Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle talks to the media during the raid on the Evans residence of Hugo Diaz in November 2011. County officials plan to vote Tuesday to raise Whittle's base pay.

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.

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Comments (4)

Riverman1

Both Deserve Raises

Both sheriffs head large law enforcement departments in relatively heavily populated counties. The Richmond County Sheriff has a tougher job because of the bigger department, greater population and demographics resulting in a higher crime rate. The position of sheriff is a Constitutionally elected one and not one where the sheriff has to work his way up through the office. That's why it's not logical to say someone from outside the RCSO who becomes sheriff should not expect to make much as his predecessor. Charlie Webster also came from outside the RCSO and I doubt he made less than his predecessor. As I said, to be clear, I sincerely hope both men are given raises.

By the way, I don't understand how when Whittle became sheriff after being in the CCSO he had to take a cut in pay. Did the Chief Deputy's position pay more than the Sheriff's even though he had the same length of service?

Barry Paschal

"Deserving" a raise isn't an issue

None of this is a matter of who "deserves" a raise, though that seems to be the only basis for Roundtree's request - that he "deserves" to make as much as his predecessor.

As constitutional officers, sheriffs receive a base pay that in essence is tied to county population, and then receive additional pay based on longevity and supplements for such things as the office providing providing court security. A new sheriff starts off at the bottom of the base, and works his or her way up the pay scale through longevity.

When Whittle was elected sheriff in 1995, he had been chief deputy for (I believe) six or eight years, which means that many annual increases. The amount he was making at that time was $14,000 lower than the then-base for a new sheriff, which is where his pay started.

Considering Roundtree is receiving a substantial raise already in moving into the sheriff's position from his previous job, it seems odd to be seeking a raise after a month and a half on the job.

Riverman1

I understand about the

I understand about the supplements and longevity pay and am not disputing that’s how it’s done, but I don’t see why a base salary for a large county such as Richmond shouldn’t be higher. What we are saying with the great example you gave of Whittle going from CD to Sheriff is the positions are independent of each other. He could have been an outsider coming in. He was entitled to the supplements, but not the longevity.

It would be interesting if Strength’s salary was based on his longevity as Sheriff or with the RCSO. I suspect that longevity facet is fluid. Keep in mind, Roundtree has a long time with the county even if the latter part was with school system law enforcement. If Richmond County wants to ensure their sheriff with his larger department and county makes more, I see nothing wrong with it.

Barry Paschal

Local governments can add to the supplements if they want

There's no reason local governments can't give additional supplements to any elected official. Whether they should or not is a different story.

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