Are the jobs worth it? Yes

But should salary discussions be kept secret from the public? No

It may seem odd at first blush that two newly elected officials – Richmond County’s sheriff and solicitor general – would immediately ask for a raise. They knew the salary when they ran for the office, one might argue.

Yes. But.

Unlike most of us in the private sector, Sheriff Richard Roundtree and Solicitor General Kellie Kenner-McIntyre were not in any position to negotiate their salary while running for office. Most of us could’ve done so before accepting a job.

They might very well have addressed the issue during the campaign, and perhaps should have. Voters might also have crucified them for it, and not elected them.

Then again, we think Richmond Countians wouldn’t have punished them for being honest and open.

Fact is, Roundtree’s $110,000 and Kenner-McIntyre’s $97,000 – set by state formula – may be impressive to most of us, but most of us don’t juggle the public safety responsibilities their offices do. The sheriff’s department of some 800 employees Roundtree has inherited, as well as Augusta’s crime challenges, warrant a salary boost from the statutory minimum.

We’d say the same about Kenner-McIntyre’s job, considering the dizzying number of cases the state court processes here.

The two requested 15 percent and 10 percent increases, respectively, but the Augusta Commission couldn’t manage the six votes necessary to approve them Monday, falling one vote short.

The bottom line question is, is the office of sheriff of Richmond County worth $127,000, and is the solicitor general worth $106,700? We say yes.

It’s not a matter of performance, obviously; the two have barely been in office a month. Nor is it a matter of seniority; the raises would get both officials up to about the same salaries as their immediate predecessors.

Rather, it’s a matter of what the job is worth to a crime-weary public.

For that reason, we also regret the Augusta Commission’s decision to discuss the raises in closed meetings on Jan. 27 and on Monday. State law allows elected bodies to discuss personnel and their compensation in closed sessions – but primarily because they need to be free to discuss an employee’s performance confidentially. In this case, performance was not at issue – again, they’ve only been on the job since last month.

Rather, this was a public policy question – one regarding what a position is worth, not a person. Such discussions must occur in the public domain. There’s no legal or logical reason why they shouldn’t be.

Even in cases where it’s debatable whether a meeting of an elected board should be held in secret, the intent of state law is unambiguous that the presumption is in favor of public, open meetings.

Nor should a public servant – elected or appointed – want anything less.

We’re disappointed with the commission’s decision to discuss this in private, and disappointed with the legal advice they
received that prompted them to do it.

It remains that the public will be infinitely more supportive of their public officials – and occasionally giving them raises – if they tend to be open with us, rather than doing our business in the dark at the first opportunity.

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