Thanks to another David Jones absence on Thursday night, Lehigh County Commissioners were unable to get the five votes needed for a modest boost in salaries paid to the Sheriff, Clerk of Judicial Records, Controller and Coroner. Instead of blaming MIA Jones, one of you has focused on the No votes cast by four of the Commissioners' five Republicans.
"Regarding the Lehigh County Commissioners, I see some voted against what equates to an annual 1 percent increase for row offices. This means they will go without a raise for eight years.
"While the cost of living increases 3 to 4 percent each year, these folks are taking a pay cut to serve the public.
"Will Dougherty, Creighton, Roman and Eckert [sic], stand for their principles and forgo any pay increase for the next 8? Whether the consumers cannot afford to give you an increase. The consumer pays for your increases. In the case of Creighton, the taxpayers pay for his increase too."
My own view is that Jones is responsible for this defeat. But I think I should disspell the suggestion that Dougherty, Creighton and Eckhart are enjoying the bounty they've denied to row officers.
In 2006, Commissioners voted to increase the Commissioner’s salary from $5,500 per year to $7,000 per year. Because Lehigh's Home Rule Charter forbids changes in salaries for elected officials currently in office, the increases approved in 2006 were to take effect in 2008 for those Commissioners (at-large seats) elected in 2007. They would take effect in 2010 for those Commissioners (district seats) elected in 2009.
When Dean Browning was a running for office in 2007, he said he would refuse any increase because he felt freezes or reductions in pay would soon to avoid a tax increase. This weekend, he told me, "I didn’t think it was right to take a 27% increase if we as Commissioners would be asking others to make a sacrifice in how they were compensated."
Sure enough, when he took office in 2008, he kept his word and has now gone three years at the lower ($5,500) rate. He even refused the additional stipend this year ($500) that goes with the position of Chairman.
What about the other Republicans?
During last year’s campaign for the district seats, all of the Republican candidates pledged to forego the $1,500 increase if elected. So upon taking office this year, Tom Creighton, Percy Dougherty and Glenn Eckhart all refused the increase and are working for the old salary of $5,500.
The sole Republican Commissioner who has accepted his $1,500 raise is Andy Roman. In fact, in 2008, he fought off a Browning attempt to roll back the increase, stating he felt this would "devalue" his work.
Browning voted for the wage hike. Eckhart, Dougherty and Creighton voted NO, but refused to take a similar hike for themselves, so they really are standing for their principles.
That leaves Andy Roman. The $1,500 increase in a Commissioner's salary that Andy voted for, took and insisted on keeping, just by coincidence happens to be the same amount that he voted against giving to the row officers 2 1/2 years from now.