Commissioner Terry Phillips listens as Judge Nathaniel Moran answers a question at the Smith County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday Feb. 5, 2019. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

A discussion about whether to give a raise to the county treasurer turned into a debate about whether the county has been practicing gender parity when giving raises to elected officials.

Two members of the Smith County Commissioners Court raised questions at a budget workshop Tuesday about whether female elected officials were getting appropriate raises compared to male elected officials.

The discussion started when Smith County Treasurer Kelli White asked County Judge Nathaniel Moran during her budget presentation for a raise, and Moran said she was asking for too much.

Between salary and supplements, White made $68,135 in fiscal year 2018, according to data from the county. In the last budget year, White asked for a raise and received a raise of $3,351, bringing her base salary to $70,366.

That same year, Sheriff Larry Smith and Tax Assessor Gary Barber received a $12,000 raise each, bringing their base salaries to $103,027 and $88,718, respectively. Smith County’s constables received $6,613 each, bringing their base salaries to $60,000. Other elected officials received 2.9 percent cost of living raises.

White said Tuesday she is paid 33 percent lower than the state average for her position. She said Smith and Barber were in similar situations but received $12,000 raises, while she received a smaller amount.

“As far as fair is fair, basically the sheriff and the tax collector got half of what they were behind,” she said. “If I’m behind 33 percent, then 15 to 16 percent is fair.”

Moran’s working budget calls for a $3,500 raise for the District Clerk, the County Clerk, and The Treasurer; 1.5 percent cost-of-living increases for employees, excluding Moran and members of the Commissioners Court; additional travel allowances for the four justices of the peace; and supplements for county judges and district judges.

On Tuesday, Moran cited the raise given in last year’s budget, but he said if he gave White $5,000, it would be a significant increase over the course of two years.

He added that White’s office has fewer duties than other treasurer’s offices throughout the state, so it isn’t appropriate to look at counties with similar populations and seek to pay her the same amount.

“Those comparisons are a little bit disingenuous to just continue to put those from population to population,” Moran said.

Moran said County Clerk Karen Phillips, who made a $72,302 base salary plus $240 in supplements in fiscal year 2018, had at one point asked for a $20,000 raise.

“I think that’s unreasonable, and I wasn’t willing to go there,” Moran said.

“So, over a two-year period of time, I think it was appropriate to give you a $7,000 raise — even an $8,500 raise to get you higher and more equivalent to your counterparts across the state — but I don’t think a $10,000 raise this year on top of a $3,500 raise last year is appropriate,” he said.

Moran said he is open to changing his mind based on what members of the Commissioners Court say, but he didn’t want to keep rehashing salary issues. “We just see them differently,” he said.

Commissioner Jeff Warr said he would support $5,000 raises each for the county clerk, the district clerk and for White.

However, Warr said elected officials run for the offices.

“It is different when we hire a department head,” Warr said. He said elected officials have “a posted salary. If we’re tired of it, we should leave or term-limit out.”

Commissioner Cary Nix said the public gets mad every time members of the Commissioners Court take a pay raise.

“I want everybody to get what they deserve, but personally I won’t take a pay raise for a job that I ran for,” he said.

Commissioner Terry Phillips, who is married to County Clerk Karen Phillips, spoke next. He said he would not comment on his wife’s situation but could comment on the salaries of District Clerk Penny Clarkston and White.

Clarkston took office at the beginning of the year, but her predecessor made a base salary of $72,302 and supplement of $960 in fiscal year 2018, according to data from the county.

“I still have a problem with why you would give a $12,000 raise to the tax assessor collector — and I love Gary — I ain’t saying he ain’t worth it. He was behind just like the other two ladies are behind, so why would you treat the male different than the female.

“I mean it just seems like that’s where it’s at with me,” Phillips said. “But I’m fine because I’m not for exorbitant raises. I voted against raises last year for that particular reason. I just don’t know where the reasoning is.”

Commissioner JoAnn Hampton agreed.

“What you have — and I’m not saying this is true — but you have discrimination because you have no problem just flat out just saying, ‘Tax assessor $12,000, sheriff, whatever percent,’ and there was really no discussion on it,” Hampton said.

Warr called Hampton’s statement ludicrous.

He said officials should take into account how many people someone is responsible for managing, and whether there are life-and-death issues at hand. He said clerks don’t deal with life-and-death issues.

Hampton added: “You have to look at the duties and all that, but the way it was done, that’s the way it looks.”

Phillips said if officials only looked at the number of people in the department, then the sheriff is very underpaid.

“The numbers don’t pan out, and I made a mistake thinking about it that way,” he said.

Moran said the number of people a person manages isn’t the sole factor of determining a salary, but it has to be considered. He said he was not happy with what Phillips and Hampton said but would get over it by the end of the meeting.

“I totally reject the notion that somehow I’ve made a recommendation on the basis of gender in this case,” Moran said. “That’s ludicrous to me and I’m stunned that either one of you would actually mention that or suggest that I did that.”

The Commissioners Court remains in the early stages of setting a budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts Oct. 1. Members will hold their next budget workshop July 23.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Jeff Warr told Moran he would recommend the draft working budget be amended to include a raise for the county judge.

“I would like that to be put back in, for you, not for us,” Warr said. “We all have ability to have some other time to pursue our other jobs or interests” but the County Judge position is a full-time job.

Phillips added that he would be fine with Moran taking a raise.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

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