All Politics is Local

Forget a ‘meaningful life’; what about a ‘quality person?’

It’s been a little over a year, and Commissioner David Madore is still talking about what kind of a salary it takes to live a “meaningful” life. But now we have Commissioner Tom Mielke talking about what it takes to be a “quality person.”

Longtime readers of APIL may remember that last year, during a discussion of legislator salaries, Madore said it was impossible to live on $50,000 a year, which is roughly what state lawmakers make when you factor in per diems. “I mean, you can’t live off that salary,” Madore said.

He added: “Kinda hard to live off that for Clark County and be in some kind of a meaningful position where you’re contributing to the people around you.”

Keep in mind, the median income for a household is $48,376, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s safe to assume that many of those people contribute to the people around them. So for many, Madore’s remarks came across as a bit tone deaf.

Of course, Madore has in the past criticized how government salaries are too high. He’s like the Goldilocks of government pay, in that he doesn’t want salaries to be too high, nor too low, but juuuuust right. He gave an idea of what that was earlier this week.

At Wednesday’s board time meeting during a discussion of commissioner salaries Madore proposed cutting the pay for one of the seats to roughly $83,000 a year. Initially, that pay cut would only affect the District 3 seat, currently held by Ed Barnes. The seat — for which Jeanne Stewart and Craig Pridemore are currently campaigning –  receives annual pay that’s a smidge over $106,000.

The reason Madore was looking only at the District 3 seat, he said, was because it was currently up for a salary review. The goal, he added, was that all three commissioners would make the same amount by 2017.But you might wonder: Why such a big drop? Madore said it was because there were a lot of people in the community who’d feel lucky to make $83,000, and the commissioners should lead by example by taking less money.

That’s a fiscally responsible position to take, for sure. But with Madore, there’s always a logic puzzle lurking in his rhetoric, impossible to unravel, along with the faint scent of political posturing. It shouldn’t be lost on observers, then, that Madore is proposing the pay cut now, as county voters prepare to cast votes on whether to switch to a home rule charter (which would drop pay to $53,000 a year).

Here’s Madore in his own words: “(I’m proposing) $83,000, which is still $30,000 above the recommended $53,000 that the charter is proposing. The charter presumes – because I looked at the source of this – that it was to be a half-time position, a part-time position, so that’s why they cut the salary in half. But then they removed the language in the final version, but kept the half-time salary there.”

Barnes balked at Madore’s proposal, saying it was too drastic of a cut to take seriously and an inequitable one to boot.

“But then you’re discriminating against that person compared to Tom because Tom is going to make the full salary for two years,” Barnes said, referring to Commissioner Tom Mielke.

After all, the salaries for the other two seats would remain locked into their current level for the next two years. It should be noted the other two commissioners don’t receive the entire amount, however. Madore cut his salary by 20 percent and currently receives around $84,000 a year. Mielke throws a few thousand dollars to local charities.

There’s another way to interpret Madore’s sudden desire to cut the commissioners’ salaries, and that’s as a political move in light of the home rule charter that will appear on November’s ballot. Madore has been a critic of the proposed charter.

But then there’s Mielke, who has made it known that a drop in salary would “suck.” He, like Barnes, was also not keen on cutting salaries by 20 percent. He suggested a lesser reduction that would keep salaries above six figures. Doing so would ensure that “quality” people ran for county commissioner, he said.

That’s an illustrative remark. One might take it as a small glimpse into Mielke’s mind. It implies that people run for office for a paycheck. And not just any paycheck — a six-figure paycheck. Now, I don’t mean to psychoanalyze the commissioner — Lord no — but in therapy they may call this an act of “transference.”

Without the necessary votes to move forward, Madore smiled and said they should all do some homework — look at what other counties pay their commissioners — and then come back for another discussion.

Tyler Graf

I started working for The Columbian in 2012 and currently cover Clark County. I'm a 2007 graduate of The University of Oregon. Contact me at tyler.graf@columbian.com

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