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County board pay hikes cause for concern

We were not among those who feared the shift of control of the county commission in recent years to the Democrats after a decades long dominance of the county board by Republicans, in large part because of the substantial gains in policy and programs ushered in by then Republican county executive L. Brooks Patterson that proved popular with the general public and which we in most cases supported. We understood that the political landscape of the county was changing and we assumed that commissioners who were part of the Democrat Party would be sensitive to any appearance of impropriety that would cast a shadow on their efforts, helping to paint them as run amok liberals without consideration of the fiscally conservative traditions of Oakland County. But the raw exercise of power by board Democrats in early December – at which time they granted themselves an historic nearly 17 percent pay increase – has us concerned.

Here's the back story.

Every decade the county board districts in Oakland are redrawn to reflect population shifts. At one point in time the county board had 27 members. It’s size was reduced by Republicans a decade ago to 21 members, billed then as a cost savings measure and board member salaries were not increased as a result. This past year, under control of the Democrats, the redistricting process allowed the controlling party to shrink the board size to 19 members. Once again, backers of the move talked of the financial savings without a threat to service or representation for county residents, with the change taking effect this coming January after commissioners were elected in the November balloting by the public.

At no point in time did anyone suggest that pay increases would follow. In fact, board chairperson Dave Woodward (D-Birmingham, Troy, Royal Oak), in our own Voter Guide, dodged the question of whether the goal in Oakland was to emulate Wayne County which has an even smaller board with pay of over $60,000. Likewise commissioner Charlie Cavell (D-Birmingham, Royal Oak, Hunting Woods, Ferndale) told us emphatically that he did not think the board size needed to be reduced even more and the pay scales increased.

Then came the December 8 Oakland County board of commissioners meeting, at which time the general operating rules were suspended and a nearly 17 percent pay raise was introduced and supported on a party-line vote by all Democrats. And that is after the board this past fall awarded themselves a five percent pay increase as a cost of living bump. So commissioners pay just jumped from $36,130 to $42,130.

Is it a necessary increase with marginally larger commission districts? Who knows – certainly not the commissioners, no matter what they say – the changes in district sizes have yet to even take effect until 2023.

So aside from the unusual hike in pay, there's the whole question of lack of transparency when this took place without any chance for the public to weigh in on the increases.

Add to that, there was an unmistaken arrogance in the attitudes of Democrats like Woodward and Cavell who spoke in support of the salary increases.

Not a good omen about future actions of the Democrat-controlled board of commissioners.

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