Stillwater News Press

February 22, 2011

OUR VIEW: Work it out, Payne County

Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — Surely, Payne County officials don’t need to go to court over salary issues in the County Assessor’s office.

The issue is sticky.

Cowan hired Glenna Craig as his chief deputy assessor at the highest employee salary range. Craig resigned as Payne County Election Board secretary to take the post.

In October, Craig asked the Payne County Budget Board to raise her salary as Election Board secretary because of a state statute that allowed counties to provide additional compensation to election board supervisors. However, the county would have to provide the additional funding. Craig earned $37,460 and wanted to be paid $58,428.

The Budget Board denied her request.

Cowan hired Craig as his chief deputy assessor and wanted to set her salary at the top of the pay scale - $45,286. He based his salary decision on a legal opinion by Assistant District Attorney Lowell Barto, who said Craig’s 20-plus years on the election board and 10 years as supervisor could be used to establish her salary range.

Other county department heads oppose the salary, saying it violates the county’s salary administration plan designed to create salary equality among county employees.

The only problem with the plan is the Budget Board never developed equivalent job descriptions on which to base those equalized salaries. The plan shows salary ranges, but by not listing job descriptions for each salary range across all departments, an elected official could place an employee at any level he wished.

Cowan has done just that and is following the procedures established by the Budget Board.

Yes, it’s a complicated issue, but a court doesn’t need to settle it. If it goes to court, who will fund the bill for attorneys representing Cowan and the Budget Board? The District Attorney’s office will not be able to represent either Cowan or the Budget Board, Barto said.

It’s entirely possible a court case will cost more than the approximately $8,000 difference between the salary proposed by Cowan and the one suggested by the Budget Board.

It will be best for the county taxpayers if the Budget Board and Cowan can work things out without going to court.

The Budget Board also needs to follow through with its salary administration plan and develop job descriptions for each salary range across all departments.