A Liberty County salary grievance committee ruled in favor of Sheriff Bobby Rader Friday, recommending that he be paid at the same rate as the county’s four commissioners.
The eight-member committee, made up of former grand jury members, voted unanimously to recommend that Liberty County Commissioners Court consider, at its next meeting, matching the sheriff’s proposed salary in the 2019 fiscal budget to commissioners’ proposed salaries. The new salary is $74,880, a 10 percent increase over the current salary of $68,073 for commissioners and the sheriff.
At the May 22 commissioners court meeting, commissioners voted for a 10 percent increase for themselves and the county judge, and a 5 percent increase for the sheriff. The commissioners’ new proposed salary jumps to $69,551 from last year’s $63,228. The commissioners, sheriff and county judge also will receive $20,000 for travel expenses if the budget is approved.
With County Judge Jay Knight, who sets the county’s budget, presiding over the meeting, Rader started his appeal by explaining that a salary grievance hearing is the only remedy for elected officials to protest a proposed salary.
“It’s very, very important for elected officials to have this avenue to disagree with the person who sets the budget. It’s important to every elected official, not just me,” he said. “What I am going to ask you to do is approve an increase in the proposed budget, an annual fee of $3,404. That comes to about $141.79 per paycheck before taxes. I know that sounds small, but in a justice of peace court, this would be a small claims case.”
Rader explained that he and other elected officials and department heads were notified by Knight that the county’s strategy “is to add no additional employees or raises” as both were included in the 2015-2018 budgets, so he was surprised to learn that an agenda item on the May 22 commissioners court meeting included discussion and action regarding proposed salaries for elected officials.
“When the discussion came up and they were talking about raises, it kind of caught me off guard,” he said.
After commissioners court ended, the sheriff said he questioned Knight about why he was only receiving a 5 percent increase while commissioners were being given an additional 10 percent. Rader said Knight told him that he would “fix” the salary disparities.
“The next day was a special meeting that [Knight] had called and I walked by him and he said he was working on it,” Rader said. “I thought my salary would be back up. I must have been a pest to him, and I apologize, Judge, because I was calling him pretty regularly because I wasn’t going to let it lie until it was fixed. It got to the point where we weren’t communicating.”
Rader told the committee that Knight has been very gracious with his support for the sheriff’s office, agreeing to extra positions for the agency.
“In 2016, the judge was gracious enough to give me the same amount [of salary as the commissioners]. This year it pops up. I thought it was unfair. If you look at all of the years I have been sheriff, it adds up to an increase of only 7 percent,” he said, adding that the number is still less than what the commissioners gave themselves in a single year.
He explained that his responsibilities are more broad than the commissioners as he is responsible for the safety and welfare of all the county’s citizens, not just one precinct. He also is responsible for keeping the county jail in compliance and security for the courts.
“Commissioners work primarily Monday through Thursday. We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even on holidays,” he said.
Using numbers from Fiscal Year 2018, he showed that the combined employee count for all four commissioners is 70, while his responsibility is for 94 paid employees and 10 reserve deputies.
He also presented a chart using a 2018 salary survey from the Texas Association of Counties that shows in 224 of Texas’ 254 counties, the sheriff’s salary is higher than commissioners. In 27 counties, the sheriff and commissioners are paid at the same rate. Only three counties pay the sheriff less than the commissioners.
The sheriff said that because he was accused by some media of not comparing apples to apples when trying to point out disparities, he included in his charts the salaries of commissioners and sheriffs in counties of similar size to Liberty County and those of the county’s closest neighbors – Hardin, Polk and Chambers counties. In all of the counties listed, the sheriff made an equal amount or more.
“I am not saying I am better than them (the commissioners). I just think it should be equal,” he said.
Once Rader presented his case to the salary grievance committee, one member said, “You all want to take a straw poll and see where we stand?” Within a couple of minutes, all agreed in favor of the sheriff.
The committee was originally intended to have nine members but one person failed to show up Friday for the hearing. That absence changed the rules.
Chapter 152 of the Local Government Codes states: “If after the hearing, six or more members vote to recommend the increase in the officer’s salary or personal expenses, the committee shall submit in its recommendation to the commissioners court in writing. If 6 to 8 vote to recommend the increase, then commissioners court shall consider the recommendation at its next meeting. If nine members vote to recommend the increase and sign the recommendation, then commissioners court shall include the increase in the budget before the budget is filed and the increase takes effect in the next budget year.”
As there were only eight members present, Knight said the county had to go with the rule of 6-8 members recommending the increase at the next commissioners court meeting.
“That’s the way county government works,” he said.
After the meeting, Rader said he was pleased that the committee ruled in his favor and is hopeful that the pay disparity will be adjusted. Once the date of the commissioners court meeting is made public, the agenda will be posted on www.BluebonnetNews.com.