Out of order. The height of irresponsibility.
So politically tone-deaf it seems downright criminal.
Are we describing Tuesday’s appalling vote by Mecklenburg County commissioners to hike their own pay by 43 percent?
No, those stinging words and phrases fell from the commissioners’ own lips nearly a month ago, when they pelted school board members with lectures about fiscal responsibility. The school board’s sin? Seeking $23 million in new county money as well as an $805 million school construction bond referendum this November.
To be sure, the commissioners’ self-approved pay increase involves far smaller amounts. As chairman Trevor Fuller helpfully pointed out, the pay hike represents a tiny portion of the county’s massive $1.7 billion annual budget.
But the decision on that tiny portion speaks volumes about the priorities and judgment of the six Democrats who approved the controversial move – Fuller, joined by Dumont Clarke, Pat Cotham, George Dunlap, Vilma Leake and Ella Scarborough.
First off, there’s the fact that they approved it knowing full well that taxpayers disapprove. (How many taxpayers have ever seen a 43 percent hike hit their own paychecks?) Leake fielded so many caustic emails that she felt the need to vent her frustration during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Don’t beat up on us,” she told the public in an indignant, defensive pre-vote soliloquy. “I do not believe there’s anyone sitting on this (board) that would ever put themselves before children.”
Really? If Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has ever received a 43 percent increase in the county money that makes up about a third of its budget, we missed it.
This pay raise is simply too big. Commissioners lifted their pay from $30,252 to $43,371. They suggested that the change structures their pay package like City Council’s. But their pay is now about $11,000 more than council members’. Restructuring needn’t require inflation.
In a county where the Census pegs median household income at $56,472, they’re making more part-time than sanitation workers, cafeteria cooks and many other full-time workers. Teacher Lauren Rohrer told commissioners their pay will nearly equal hers, despite her master’s degree, 10 years of experience and her very much full-time work schedule.
No one is asking commissioners to serve for free. And no one is saying they have full control over how much teachers make. But it’s entirely fair to ask them to show the kind of fiscal restraint they so eagerly faulted the school board for lacking.
All nine commissioners will go before voters this November, but none is expected to face a strong challenge. Five are running unopposed.
If you’re trying to understand why we just saw one of the more stunning acts of political hubris in recent memory, that’s as good a place to start as any.
Let the pro-pay-hike commissioners know what you think
Vice Chair Dumont Clarke (District 4): 704-996-6126; Dumont.Clarke@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
Pat Cotham (At large): 704-336-2472; Patricia.Cotham@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
George Dunlap (District 3): 704-336-2472; George.Dunlap@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
Chairman Trevor Fuller (At large): 704-336-2472: Trevor.Fuller@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
Vilma Leake (District 2): 704-336-2472; Vilma.Leake@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
Ella B. Scarborough (At large): 980-314-2879; Ella.Scarborough@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov