by Max Brantley
I ranted Thursday about the Pulaski County government plan -- a seeming done deal -- to grant yet another bonus this year for a total of 12 percent in pay increases in 2008-09 with plans for another pay raise of up to 5 percent in January, for a potential total of 17 percent in less than 2 years. And this is on top of the considerable tax-free benefit of free health insurance for all county elected officials and employees. (Your insurance is free, isn't it? Oh? You don't have insurance? So sorry.)
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette followed up with a front-page account today. County Judge Buddy Villines explains that savings from vacant positions -- and thus the assumed hard work by all remaining employees -- justifies these extraordinary pay raises in a time of near-record unemployment and pay cuts in virtually every other area of the economy.
About that: 1) There have been no vacancies on the Quorum Court, where most justices of the peace will vote pay raises for themselves and the other county officials, all of whom are free to choose to run for these offices or not. 2) Does it follow that an open job is a needed job? 3) Don't you think pay bonuses should fall where employees shouldered the biggest burdens, rather than across the board? Think about the jail and sheriff's office, which account for half the county's open slots. 4) If the county has a bunch of free money, don't you think we should use it to hire more jailers before we give the JPs 20 percent in pay raises? Or hire somebody to run a county zoning office to protect the Lake Maumelle watershed?
The county apparently has lost a jail nurse to higher pay. Justification enough, apparently, to give JPs and county elected officials a pay raise. Why not just raise jail nurses' pay and save about $1.4 million?
CORRECTION NOTE: In the list of pay raises and bonuses sought by county officials over recent months, one bonus -- for 3 percent -- was voted down by the Quorum Court and my cumulative amount has been corrected to reflect that.