Approval of Washington County’s director of community relations and special projects position has hit another snag, this time over concerns about the job’s salary.
At their Oct. 31 meeting, Washington County Commissioners voted to send the job description and salary back to the Budget Committee for further study, again delaying a final decision on funding the position until at least Nov. 28.
Initially, funding for the role was cut in a Sept. 8 commission meeting; the job, then called the county communications director and held by Jeff Keeling, was officially eliminated Sept. 19. Keeling resigned Sept. 26, a week later, over concerns about the uncertainty of the job’s future. Funding was reintroduced at a Sept. 14 General Health and Welfare Committee meeting and presented for reinstatement at a Sept. 26 commission meeting, but at that time the decision was referred to back to an Oct. 11 Budget Committee.
The job presented by Mayor Dan Eldridge — and unanimously approved by the committee — on Oct. 11 had a different title and a revised job description than the original: The director of community relations and special projects would focus on tasks related to community relations, special projects and the county’s website, and removed from the job’s duties was any involvement with the media.
But when the funding was brought up for full commission approval at the Oct. 31 meeting, commissioners hesitated over the role’s salary of $48,000.
“Was the salary ever discussed?” said Commissioner Ethan Flynn, who estimated the total cost of the position, including retirement and health insurance, to be around $75,000. “I have huge concerns with $75,000 in compensation. I would like to respectfully request that the budget committee consider the full cost of this position.”
Commissioners Doyle Cloyd and Mark Ferguson added they also had issues with the $48,000 starting salary, and said the Budget Committee should take into account levels of salaries in other departments, especially long-time employees’ pay.
Eldridge, who noted only the salary was cut from the budget while the benefits remain funded, said $48,000 is what it will take to be competitive with the private sector and to attract someone with the right qualifications for the job.
Ferguson also took issue with the fact the final job description was handed out at that morning’s meeting, saying he needed more time to read through it.
Commission Chairman Greg Matherly explained the timing of the handout.
“The reason it was handed out today is that me and the mayor have worked this week on it,” he said. “There have been some changes to it. ...That did hold this up.”
Still, commissioners will in fact get another month to consider the funding, as a motion from Flynn, a second from Commissioner Lee Chase, and a unanimous commission vote sent the item back to the budget committee, which will examine the salary, job description, and qualifications at its Nov. 16 meeting.
“This represents the right step toward where we want to be,” said Commissioner Joe Corso. “We are 100 years behind administratively. We need to allow the mayor to build his staff, and a professional staff at that. But I do agree we need more time to bring up the issues. ...I think we’re almost there, almost.”
Before the discussion ended, Commissioner Ken Lyon contrasted his colleagues’ treatment of the revised job with the original vote to cut the funding on Sept. 8.
“I’m sure glad you all are giving this some heavy thought,” Lyon said. “I wish you would have given it the same thought when you fired Jeff Keeling.”
Also at the Oct. 31 meeting, commissioners approved using $24,000 from the county’s general fund to pay constables to provide security to the County Clerk and Trustee offices in Johnson City. The funds, recommended by the Budget Committee, were questioned by some commissioners who thought improved security was the reason for the move out of downtown Johnson City and into a more expensive building.
“I thought when we moved the offices to north Johnson City that one justification was the concern with security in downtown Johnson City, and this move would take care of that,” said Commissioner David Tomita. “I’m just wondering what has changed.”
Commissioner Pete Speropulos, a member of the Public Safety Committee, said the biggest security threat to the offices has not been outside traffic, but irate taxpayers who enter the office and cause a scene.
“The employees are wary and scared of that,” he said. “A badge will deter people from getting violent.”
The motion passed 17-7, with Tomita, Joe Sheffield, Mitch Meredith, Corso, Flynn, Lyon and Joe Grandy voting no.
Also at the meeting, commissioners discussed the county’s advertisement for a county archivist, a position that will be filled after Jan. 1, when the archives are moved and ready.