Weld County Council to reconsider raises for elected officials

By: Sherrie Peif | speif@greeleytribune.com

Full Article here: https://www.greeleytribune.com/news/local/weld-county-council-to-reconsider-raises-for-elected-officials/

Former Greeley Mayor Ed Clark told Weld County Council members that government owes people two things: infrastructure and safety.

So in line with that thinking, he didn’t disagree with a raise for the position of Weld County sheriff, but he was clear on his feelings about raises for county commissioners that amount to just over 37 percent. He said they don’t need them.

“What you’re doing is absolutely wrong,” Clark said about the raises voted on in September by the council for the five-member Board of Weld County Commissioners.

“The per capita income of an individual in Weld County is $30,000. Half the people in Greeley make less than $30,000. A family income is $51,000-$56,000; $120,000 is twice as much as a family and four times as much as an individual,” Clark said. “I became mayor to make Greeley a safer place. You don’t (go into public service) to make more money; you do it to make a difference in the community.”

He added, “They are like city council. They have department heads who actually run the county. They run the government from 40,000 feet. They are not worth $120,000.”

Clark was the first of just a few people to speak at a special session called by the county council on Wednesday to discuss recent salary increases they voted on for Weld elected officials.

However, the council will reconsider the raises at its next regular meeting on Oct. 20.

A county council member is an unpaid elected position that was created in Weld’s Home Rule Charter to be the watchdog of the County Commissioners. Part of that includes setting elected officials’ salary.

At its last regular meeting in September, board members voted to raise the salaries of the commissioners, assessor and clerk and recorder from $87,300 per year to $120,000, $110,000 and $102,500 respectively. They also raised the county sheriff from $111,500 to $140,000.

After the public comments, two of the council members — Brett Abernathy and Jeff Hare — stood by their initial vote in favor of the raises.

Bernard Kinnick and Donald Mueller didn’t specifically say they would vote against the raises but said they heard what people were saying and want a chance to reconsider the raises.

President Marge Klein gave no indication which direction she might go, saying she wanted some time to think about it.

The raises made all of Weld’s elected officials the highest paid in the state. The Legislature sets the salaries for every county in Colorado except Weld and Pitkin counties, which are home rule counties and can set their own.

No one who spoke from the public said much about the raises for the assessor, clerk and recorder or sheriff. Nearly all of the dialogue was focused on the commissioners.

Weld resident Clair Orr said he wasn’t going to comment on whether the salary is too high, but as a former council member he urged them to compare the salary to those with similar job descriptions.

“When you go to the charter, it says it’s a full-time job, a primary job,” Orr said. “I was going to run in ’92 but I couldn’t afford it because I was making more in the private sector. Is it going to attract more people? Yeah, money attracts more people, but are they going to be good? That’s for the voters to decide. If they don’t like them, they can get rid of them.”

Although Orr never actually said he supported the raises, he was the only person who did not speak against them.

Greeley resident Chad Peterson, who hosts a talk show on 1310 KFKA, said the argument that the need to raise the salary to attract qualified candidates is not valid.

“They make $43.65 an hour with no college degree. When you just have to be popular enough to get elected and then politically astute enough to get re-elected, raising it to $60 an hour seems like a stretch and over payment by a significant amount.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Klein made a point to have county attorney Bruce Barker give his interpretation of whether her vote on the matter was a conflict of interest. Klein is the equivalent of a treasurer for current Weld office candidates Carly Koppes and Julie Cozad.

Although Barker said that technically he did not believe she was violating state law, he did say she should proceed with caution in making her decision whether to vote.

“If it creates a justifiable impression that such trust has been violated,” Barker quoted from another clause in the law. “As attorneys, we avoid any conflict that gives a perception of conflict to the public. I always advise anyone who comes to me and says, ‘Do I have a conflict?’ If you’re asking me if it is a conflict, you sort of have a sense that maybe the public perceives that.”

Barker said he would have advised her to disclose her relationship before the vote.

After Barker’s statements, Klein read a brief statement that said she did not believe her relationship with the candidates would bias her decision and she plans to vote again on the topic.

However, Peterson’s fellow radio host, Timothy Shiely, who is better known as the outspoken, late-night host Scooter McGee, told Klein and the rest of the council that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

“All of you up here were elected because of your calling to serve,” Shiely said. “OK, so you’re using the words transparency and accountability. But words and actions are two different things.”

Shiely also said that after hearing people complain for weeks, he was frustrated at the lack of participation by residents.

“The government we have, is the government we get,” he said. “Where is everybody? This is all I’m hearing about. But if you get away with this, you got away with it, and it’s our own fault.”

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