In a special meeting of the Oklahoma County Budget Board meeting on Wednesday, the elected officials of Oklahoma County voted to give themselves a raise of $17,075.
The Special Meeting was scheduled Monday, December 21 and held Wednesday, December 23.
County Treasurer Butch Freeman and County Clerk David B. Hooten scheduled the meeting to hold a discussion and possible vote on an increase of the salary for each County elected official. The raise was the only item on the day’s agenda.
The Budget Board is composed of each elected officer of the County. They are County Assessor Larry Stein, Freeman, all three County Commissioners, Court Clerk Rick Warren, Hooten, and Sheriff P.D. Taylor. Taylor has stepped down from the Board for the last several months and Undersheriff William Blaik has been sitting on the Board as his alternate.
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Chairman of the Board, District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey, asked for public comment before discussion of the agenda item.
First was restaurateur Sean Cummings, who said the optics of the pay raise right now are horrific. Especially a 17% raise in a year when people are falling into poverty is especially a terrible look.
Next Mark Faulk, a local activist, spoke to the board. He said that as a kid his mother would tell him there was a time and a place for everything, but when he was speaking out of turn his mother would say, “This is neither the time nor the place.” He told the Board that this is not the time nor the place for a raise in the face of people suffering in our community, especially while unemployment benefits are being cut.
Calvey invited Freeman to explain the proposed raise.
Freeman began by thanking the commenters. He said that he understood and accepted their point of view, agreeing that the timing of this decision looks bad to some. He explained, however, that the officers of the county had not received a raise in pay since 2008. He pointed out that the salary of the elected officials creates a cap on what all other employees of the county can make.
Freeman went on to underscore that the passage of a raise in salary would not increase taxes, nor would the defeat of the proposed raise lower taxes. “Your ad valorem taxes will not be affected by this vote in any way,” He said.
Co-sponsor of the proposal, Clerk David Hooten, who acts as Secretary of the Budget Board, explained that the rate of inflation of 2% annually means that a 24% lack of increase has occurred for County officials. He said it is a bad situation that needs to be remedied.
District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan said that the timing of the proposal “stinks to high heaven.” He asked, rhetorically, why the raise hadn’t been proposed at the previous, regularly scheduled meeting of the Budget Board instead of being scheduled right before Christmas.
Maughan went on to say that this raise wouldn’t be for front-line clerks, saying elected officials are able to give staff raises up to one dollar less than the official makes.
County Assessor Larry Stein claimed that with the salary cap where it is, he has great difficulty keeping or attracting staff who can work with the high level of technology used in the Assessor’s Office. “Voting against this tells County employees they’re in a dead-end job,” Stein added.
The item was called for a vote and passed 5-2-1. Commissioners Maughan and Calvey voted against the pay raise, while William Blaik abstained on behalf of the outgoing Sheriff.
In comments to the press after the meeting, Treasurer Butch Freeman compared Oklahoma County salaries to Oklahoma City municipal government staff salaries. He said, “That’s who we’re in competition with.”
Assessor Larry Stein explained to the press that the County follows all statutes, except for the pay scale statute.
Stein said that the calculation for what the top salary is in the county is set by state law. The County simply hasn’t been increasing with inflation for years. He said his office is extremely efficient, “but when you need good people, you can’t be hamstrung with arbitrary guidelines that aren’t followed”
Stein explained the raise as a cost that hasn’t been adjusted in twelve years.
District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert, who voted in favor of the pay raise, released a statement after the meeting saying the following:
“Because the State Legislature has tied our hands, many county employees have been ineligible for pay increases for years. Combined, they have over 300 years of service to Oklahoma County. These are highly skilled and dedicated individuals who have sacrificed to serve the public. I voted yes today to support them. Their opportunities should not be limited by politicians concerned with optics. I would be thrilled to see an amendment to state law that allows us to set salaries for employees higher than county elected officials.”
Previously, the Board of County Commissioners would have the final vote on a pay raise of this sort, but that was, according to District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey, changed by legislation in recent years. Now, the Budget Board has the final vote on such a move.
For himself, Calvey claimed that he would donate his salary increase to charity, adding that he has never voted for a pay increase for himself and never would.
Commissioner Brian Maughan was unhappy at the passage of the raise. At the end of the meeting during comments from Board members, Maughan pointedly said, “I would wish you all a Merry Christmas, but you’ve just wished yourself one.”
After the meeting Maughan had this to say to the press, “The timing of this stinks to high heaven. The excuse was they didn’t have the time to meet with the DA, well we have a regularly scheduled meeting every month and one coming up in January.”
“I thought the lack of discussion was interesting, the lack of comments was interesting,” Maughan continued. “We’ve had so much comments and debate going on with all the CARES Act money lately and to talk about the timing of this and with evictions going on, and with relief we just wrestled with to give to the businesses in this community, to vote now is just horrible optics.”
When asked about the argument that Title 19 hasn’t been followed all these years, Maughan said, “It simply says that we can, not that we shall. And I think they could have taken less than a 14% in one time jump. They could have waited until the Spring for the vaccinations and other relief from the pandemic overall. It might have looked a lot better to have been transparent about this and put it on a regularly scheduled meeting. I think by and large the public didn’t even know this was happening today.”
“This insinuation that we’re doing it for the employees is just garbage. There are so few employees that’s going to be impacted by this, it’s just the top top staff members who are underneath the officials by a dollar, and this will just increase a handful of people in each office, as far as that goes,” Maughan concluded.
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