Mielke to freeholders: Decreasing commissioners’ salaries ‘sucks’
At last week’s board time meeting, noted wordsmith Tom Mielke offered a colorful assessment of a proposed salary reduction for county commissioners. With near Hemingway-esque succinctness, the commissioner deduced, “That sucks.”
He seemed genuinely taken aback by “news” that the freeholders’ proposed county charter provisions call not just for increasing the size of the board from three members to five but also for slashing their salaries in half, dropping them to $53,000 a year. I enjoy borrowing the “I would think” sentence construction from Commissioner David Madore, who uses it liberally, so allow me to dust it off. I would think a county commissioner would be aware of the proposed charter changes, as they directly relate to county governance in general and to his job in particular.
And it’s not like there’s been a lack of information about the proposed changes. The Columbian has published more than a dozen articles about the freeholders’ work since they started meeting last year. Evidently, the commissioner takes his aversion to the newspaper very, very seriously.
Mielke has voiced his opposition to changing the charter in the past. In one instance a few weeks back — at a time when he and Commissioner David Madore were the sole members of the board — Mielke told me it was sometimes difficult reaching consensus among only two people. And if two people couldn’t reach a decision, he mused, think about how much more difficult it would be if the board were expanded to five members. As Stephanie Rice pointed out on an APIL post in May, perhaps Mielke is unaware that decisions would be much easier to come by with an odd number of commissioners.
The topic of the proposed charter changes came up during a discussion of this year’s salary review. Commissioners are tasked with setting the salary for a board seat ahead of its election. And this is an election year for the District 3 seat.
During the board time discussion, Mielke explained the process the commissioners would have to undertake. That’s when Commissioner Ed Barnes — who’s temporarily filling the District 3 seat until a permanent member is elected in November — alluded to the pay reductions embedded in the charter on which residents will vote in November.
Barnes: “You mean if the voters don’t do something.”
Mielke: “No, we get to decide it (the salary).”
Barnes: “They have to vote for the new ….”
Mielke: “We decide the salary.”
Barnes: “But if they go along with what they’re looking at ….”
Mielke: “Oh, freeholders. I think they gave us back our salaries.”
Mark McCauley: “Ah, no, it dropped to ($53,000).”
Madore: “They cut it in half and made it into a part-time paid position.”
Mielke: “I heard last they didn’t.”
(lots of cross talk)
McCauley: “You and Commissioner Madore keep your salaries until the end of your term. So there’s like a transition to the lower salary. But the one elected in November starts at ($53,000).
(cross talk before Mielke chimes in)
Mielke: “That suck (writer’s note: I assume he meant sucks).”
Some might wonder what exactly Mielke is complaining about. After all, the figure just squeaks by Madore’s baseline for what it takes to live a meaningful life. I’m sure the freeholders took that into consideration.