December 17, 2015

Grains of Salt (v4): Never a Good Time

Our County Executive Joanie Mahoney has apparently been cured of her significant paycheck envy, now that she's getting a 27.3% raise.

Mahoney, in an exclusive interview with CNYCentral's Michael Benny, noted in the nicest possible way her dissatisfaction with the fact that she hadn't had a raise but others had.
Previous to my time in office, when Nick Pirro was the County Executive, there was a raise for the office every single year for the eight years previous to my getting there...
I would just point out to people that none of those raises came along the way so it's not like you're going to go back and make up for all of the years that there was no raise...
The CSEA employees were collecting those raises every year and the County Executive was not.
Every county employee that's full time including every elected official has gotten a raise within the last eight years with the exception of this position. 
Mahoney contends that, while many taxpayers apparently don't recall, this was addressed last December, so it did sort of meet her request that it be taken up before the election. And she basically blames her constituents for their "busy lives" and not remembering that this had been discussed, so there really shouldn't be any complaints now.

When it was raised back then, there was concern about the timing.  Here's what Joanie says:
At that time, some of the criticism was that it shouldn't happen mid-term and that it should be for a new term so they asked to put it off for a year. 
Mahoney also points out, lest we have forgotten, that this was discussed during her campaign last year, and for the legislators last year.
All along the way on the campaign trail, I was asked about raises, county legislators were asked about raises... The fact of the matter is, this was talked about all year long, it did go through the campaign process. You know, I had all of the lumps of a raise on the campaign trail, without having actually gotten the raise.
When questioned about having the County Executive get the raise, while some county employees don't yet have a contract, she noted that
... There's never going to be a good time. There is never a time that you would propose raises for elected officials that everyone would say "that's a great idea" so you have to sort of set that aside.
After pointing out (again) that the union contract included retroactive increases, but that she wasn't getting any retro pay, she noted (again)
...there's never going to be a time that people think it's a good idea.
Actually, Joanie, there IS a good time - if you agree that elected officials should get a raise at all, given that they get pensions (including those who hold part-time positions) and benefits, and given that they know going in what the position pays. In fact, there are a couple of them.

The Legislature actually came close to one of them just last year.

The law that was proposed last December and ultimately dropped earlier this year would have immediately bumped up the salary for the County Executive, County Sheriff, County Comptroller and County Clerk, but would have put off changes for the legislators until the beginning of the new term in 2016. A simple tweak - making all of the changes effective at the beginning of the next term, rather than having some of them be effective upon adoption of the bill, would have been a much more honest way to do this.

Couple the revised proposal with a public hearing or two, at different times when people could actually attend them, and get out some even half-hearted communications, and you could have a clean process, with public input, and it could have been included in the budget process. I'd be willing to bet that CNYCentral would love to have streamed the public hearings on one of their stations.

Another good time, and good way, to do this would be to put it to a referendum. For example, what if the ballot this past November included a question like this:
The Office of the Onondaga County Executive has not had a salary increase in eight years. The current salary for this elected position is $122,413. This position is not term-limited, and includes a pension and benefits. It is proposed that the salary be tied to the CPI-E (Consumer Price Index- Elderly) and changed each year in a percentage consistent with changes in Social Security payments to Onondaga County citizens.
Do you favor or oppose this proposal?
Similar ballot questions could be placed for all of the other elected positions, putting everyone on equal footing with the County Executive in terms of how and when their salaries could change.

I'm sure the wording could be tweaked a little, if needed, although the statement as written is factual. And I'm sure there's probably a way to get the referendum at the top of the front page of the ballot, where people could see it easily.

If the majority of the citizens you and the Legislature represent voted in favor of this proposal, you'd get the same percentage of raise that my elderly mom gets; and sometimes, as she does, you'd get nothing.

Back to Joanie. When pressed by Benny on whether citizens should have some opportunity to chime in, to have a 'community conversation' on this issue, she - like most politicians who are not subject to term limits, and who have the overwhelming benefit of incumbency -- offered one last shot:
Oh absolutely, and that's why voters have the right every two years with the Legislature and every four years with the County Executive to make their voices heard... 
Thanks for the reminder.