Bertie board nixes immediate raise

Published 6:10 pm Sunday, March 23, 2014

WINDSOR – After opting not to vote on the issue three days earlier, the Bertie County Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted not to give Sheriff John Holley a raise in salary at this time.

The decision was split, with three commissioners opposing the raise and two supporting the idea.

John Holley has served as Bertie County Sheriff since early 2010. File Photo

John Holley has served as Bertie County Sheriff since early 2010. File Photo

Monday, only four members were present at the meeting of the Commissioners – John Trent having been absent due to illness. After hearing from both members of the public that were present, as well as his fellow commissioners, Chairman J. Wallace Perry opted to table the motion for a raise until a later meeting.

That time came less than 60 hours later with all five commissioners present for the discussion.

Monday, Commissioner Rick Harrell requested some follow-up on the sheriff’s salary as compared with surrounding counties and that information was forwarded to county manager, Scott Sauer.

“Let’s make sure it doesn’t fall through the cracks and bring it up and we deal with it in a way that is necessary,” Harrell said. “I don’t want to do things like that and us not deal with them.”

Rev. Vonner Horton, pastor of Merry Hill’s Oxley Hill Baptist Church, and present at the meeting, questioned the reason for a delay of discussing salary because she said four commissioners present should constitute a quorum.

“I’m concerned with the division it’s causing in the county unnecessarily,” Horton said.

Further, Commissioner Ronald D. “Ron” Wesson, pushing for the discussion, said it may have been better to hold the discussion in closed session before voting in open session, but County Attorney Lloyd Smith told the board that based on state law any discussion regarding the Sheriff’s salary must be done in open session.

“I don’t know what we’re waiting for,” Wesson said. “We’ve all seen the material and I think we all know where we stand.”

Even with more citizen endorsements, Perry persisted Monday night that the matter would be brought up at the next meeting; and some assumed that might mean not until the April meeting.

Instead, it was the first item discussed when the board reconvened Thursday – with Trent present – following Monday’s recess.

Wesson began by saying that all the commissioners had received and reviewed the information provided by the county manager regarding sheriff’s salaries in the region.  He then made a motion, seconded by Trent, that Holley’s salary be increased from $63,296 to $72,000 annually, an increase of $8,804.

“But I would also say that between now and budget time that we would look at other departments and other positions that might be affected by our bringing in a significant number of new employees which was part of the EMS,” Wesson added.

Harrell said that with the county’s budgeting process beginning within the next 30-plus days, that time would be more appropriate for the raise to be considered, and that not doing it that way was the wrong thing to do.

“I don’t want to be put in a position where I’ve got to make a decision based on some of the things I hear, and some of the things that are said to me,” Harrell said.  “I think that’s the position  we’re all being put in, and I think it’s something that needs to be dealt with in budget time and that there are an awful lot of employees – some of whom have approached me – who believe that their salaries need to be looked at and adjusted the same way.”

“I think it all needs to be done in one sweeping study where we look at them all and make a determination on what can be done fairly to all of the people who work for us,” he added.

Perry said he fully agreed with Harrell in that there was, in his opinion, no urgency for a salary adjustment.

“Like you said there are some other loyal employees that need adjusting,” Perry said. “Some of them are working out here seven days a week; and that if we are getting into raising salaries for our people we need to consider more than just one person.”

Wesson said he felt the issue was not racially-motivated. But he pointed out that the $3,000 dollar difference in some other department salaries and that of the Sheriff was quite a discrepancy.

“For a person who puts their life on the line for this county, I think that’s too small a margin,” Wesson emphasized. “I think it sends the right signal to do it now so that citizens understand that we are committed to it.  I think it’s the largest glaring example of where there needs to be some adjustment.”

Board vice-chairman Charles Smith said he thought the issue of the salary raise was causing dissension within the community as well as among his fellow board members.

“Whether we do it (now) or not, it’s going to cause problems,” Smith said.

Smith’s comments were the last ones before the commissioners took their vote on the motion.

Wesson and Trent voted in favor of the immediate raise, while the no votes were cast by Perry, Smith, and Harrell.