Outcry continues over Lamb’s pay hike

Published 10:47 am Saturday, March 5, 2011

The public outcry continues over a substantial pay awarded by the Bertie County Board of Commissioners to County Manager Zee Lamb.

In the aftermath of Monday night’s meeting of the commissioners, one where public comment was overwhelming in opposition of Lamb’s salary hike followed by a 14-page response from the board that justified the raise, a group identified as “The Friends of Bertie – Rescind the Raise Committee” has replied.

Thursday night, the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald received the following e-mail from the citizen’s group:

“Prior to the September 2009, 46% (includes retirement) increase, the county commissioners were paying the Bertie County Manager a 21.4% salary premium to the 2011 average regional salaries. In fact, if you go back to Lamb’s hiring in 2000, he has consistently been the highest paid county manager in the region by a significant margin. We have paid him a handsome premium for his skills and qualifications since his first day on the job.

No one is denying Mr. Lamb has helped do some good things to save Bertie County money and that is what any manager is supposed to do. Especially a manager who is being paid 21% above the regional average prior to his 46% raise. However, the tone of the commissioners’ response, in most examples in their statement, gives Mr. Lamb singular credit for the accomplishments pointed out and that is just wrong. The Friends of Bertie-Rescind the Raise committee commend the county employees and teachers of Bertie County for their sacrifices and accomplishments in these trying times.

We are trying to obtain the closed minutes of the commissioners meeting to see which commissioner(s) proposed this outrageous increase and what role if any Mr. Lamb played in obtaining this increase.

If the commissioners are so proud of the raise, why did they not simply announce the accomplishments and the increase to the public when it occurred? Why didn’t the three recently elected commissioners campaign on the increase? Why did the citizens have to back them into a corner to get an answer that stops short of “he parted the Red Sea”?

At the last commissioners’ meeting, the Chair of the Commissioners, Mr. L.C. Hoggard, could still not find his voice to speak to the people he serves, and sat silently while the statement he reportedly wrote was read by the county attorney.

This highlights a shortcoming of all our commissioners. They may manage, but they do not lead. Leaders create a vision for an institution and build a consensus of stakeholders to make that vision come true. Have you heard any of them speak to a vision? Our county manager has done some good things but is he implementing his vision or the vision of the county citizens as communicated through our elected representatives?

We can find a competent lawyer who will bring his or her family to Bertie County and follow our leaders. We just have to elect some transparent & real leaders first. A couple of comments that refute some of the commissioners’ salary justification statement:

Commissioner’s Opening statement – While Mr. Lamb had received cost of living increases in his salary since 2002, he had not received a merit raise since 2001.

Our Response: They conveniently forgot to tell you that he got a 16.4% increase in 2001 after his first year of employment. If you increase Mr. Lamb’s starting salary of $77,000 annually by the Social Security cost of living index, you will find that if he truly only had cost of living increases, he would have been making $96,195 prior to his September 2009 increase. However, he was making 12% more than that at $107,725. He has gotten more than cost of living increases since coming on board in 2000. (See Attachment #1)

What a difference in a story and perception one number can make! Before they even got off of page one you can see the continuation of the lack of transparency and misleading leadership we get from our commissioners and county manager.

Qualifications – The commissioners point out that the county manager is a lawyer. He was compensated for that from day one as the highest paid county manager in the area. We are waiting to see if being a lawyer is in the job description. They point out he is the budget officer but every executive manager is the final say on budgets for their company.

Property Taxes – The commissioners in the 1980’s would not let the tax department seize property for non-payment of taxes until they were 3 years past due. Most of the performance improvement in Lamb’s early tenure was due to a policy change that started this process when taxes first became late. Most of this improvement was due to a commissioner policy change and not super performance by Mr. Lamb. In fact, Bertie does not lead the region in tax collection as pointed out in Exhibit 2. It is only middle of the pack in regional tax collection performance.

Fund Balance – Bertie does not lead the region in fund balance performance. We are only middle of the pack in fund balance as a percent of general revenue spending for this region. This is per the state reporting found at http://www.nctreasurer.com/lgc/LgcMemos/Memo2010-25final.pdf. Look on page 11 of that report for counties below 20,000 in population. Bertie does not lead our region in fund balance as a percent of general revenues. Again we are only middle of the pack, not leaders. (See Attachment #2)

New Prison – It took a lot of people, including Mr. Lamb, to make this happen. At best, he was part of a team that accomplished this project.

Medicaid Reform – We credit Mr. Lamb with being a vocal supporter of this rural statewide movement that will save the county money. We do NOT agree he can stand on this as a saving he initiated and singularly made happen. He certainly played a part.

Our Conclusion – Mr. Lamb has had accomplishments as our county manager. That is what is expected. There are many in the county that would also argue his accomplishments have come with a cost. However, this story is not about that. It is about how in the depths of our greatest recession, our executive, already significantly leading the region in compensation, receiving a 46% compensation increase when everyone else is being told to hold the line. Also, it is about how the commissioners were not forthcoming and transparent when the raise occurred or when it was first brought to light. This county manager increase over 10 years will cost the county over $500,000. In fact, before this increase we already had one of the highest administrative cost numbers in the region.

The Friends of Bertie – Rescind the Raise Committee, will request our county Commissioners, who are the cause of this problem, to rescind this raise in 30 days. If action is not started quickly, we will begin the process to recall all of our county commissioners. The story being generated out of the county office that the vocal dissatisfaction about the raise is the result of a personal vendetta of just a few people, will soon be washed aside. The Friends of Bertie will have a petition with thousands of signatures and the voices of the citizens will be heard. We will overcome the absolute lack of transparency, lack of sound judgment, and lack of leadership we have witnessed for too long in Bertie County. Please come to the next commissioners meeting Monday, March 14 at 10 a.m. in the morning to support rescinding the raise.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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