His predecessor made $191K a year. Why has new Meck sheriff earned only 8 cents?

Gary McFadden started as Mecklenburg County Sheriff on Dec. 4.
Gary McFadden started as Mecklenburg County Sheriff on Dec. 4. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

As Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden settled into office, the former homicide detective uncovered a personally vexing problem: He says he’s been paid only $1, before taxes, since taking office Dec. 4.

McFadden’s predecessor, Irwin Carmichael, earned $191,626 a year. When the new sheriff learned that pay rate apparently won’t apply to him, he appealed to county commissioners Tuesday night during a public comment period.

His salary “was in conflict. My compensation was 8 cents this week,” apparently after deductions, McFadden told commissioners. The sheriff added that “no one has yet to speak to me” about his salary since being sworn into office.

The issue was apparently resolved in a Thursday morning meeting between McFadden and county officials.

McFadden was first offered a $153,000 salary Thursday, then a higher amount, but declined both, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Tonya Rivens said. The sheriff was then offered the same compensation paid to Carmichael, which he accepted, she said.

County commissioners in North Carolina have little oversight of the sheriff’s office — except to set a departmental budget and the sheriff’s salary. That system has created wide disparities in salaries in the state’s 100 counties, Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in 2014, with some sheriffs in smaller counties pulling in more than counterparts in big ones.

All employees of a sheriff’s office, including the sheriff himself, are considered county employees for purposes of setting compensation, Kara A. Millonzi of the UNC School of Government, who specializes in county commissioner legal issues, said Thursday.

It’s common, Millonzi said, for incoming sheriffs to be paid less than those who have served for a while. But commissioners are required to serve notice by setting a salary range for a new sheriff before the end of the election filing period.

This year’s filing period ended Feb. 28, and it’s unclear whether commissioners set a new salary range for sheriff. County spokesman Rick Christenbury said Thursday that he doesn’t know whether county commissioners have taken action or been advised of McFadden’s pay since he took office.

County manager Dena Diorio’s office referred only to a terse statement.

“I look forward to a positive working relationship with Sheriff McFadden,” Diorio said in the statement. “This is a personnel matter that I will resolve directly with him.”

Diorio will have no more public comment on the issue, Christenbury said. He could not verify that McFadden’s had accepted Carmichael’s pay Thursday.

Rivens, of the sheriff’s office, said Diorio’s office has also denied the salaries McFadden recommended for Telisa White, whom he promoted from major to chief of detention, and for Rivens herself as the office’s new public information officer. Christenbury said the salaries for White and Rivens are set by the sheriff’s office and the county manager has no role in setting them.

Mecklenburg County’s current budget, approved last summer, acknowledges vacancies within the sheriff’s office and increased salaries for positions experiencing high turnover. The sheriff’s office, which runs the county jails, serves criminal and civil papers and secures courtrooms, has a $124 million budget and 1,165 fulltime employees.

Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.