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Public service should not be opportunity to make money at taxpayers’ expense

The Washington County Commission’s vote to award themselves increased pension benefits is in sharp contrast to their continued pronouncements of fiscal conservatism. The method of funding the raises at a last session meeting before leaving office also raises questions of openness and ethical behavior.
The departing commission members and those joining in favor of the vote had the legal right to vote on the pension increase.
While denying any additional money for county schools, the Commissioners approved a $12 per month increase for retired commissioners.
According to county officials, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System offers an option to raise retirement benefits effective July 1, 2011. A retired commissioner will now receive another $144 dollars per year for every year served on the commission. For a two-term retired commissioner, that’s more than $1,100 increase per year in benefits.
Of the 11 commissioners who “retired” in August, most have served at least two terms, with some having served four, five and six terms.
In fairness to taxpayers, there should have been a list of each retiring commissioner and the amount of benefits he or she would be entitled to as the result of the increase in pension funding.
The county’s budget director, Bobbye Webb, says the state told her the financial impact to the county of upping the retirement benefits would be a small amount.
It is incumbent upon the newly elected County Commissioners to find out how “small” this figure is and make the numbers public.
If the numbers seem justified, commissioners should indicate they approve the decision and intend to take advantage of the retirement benefits themselves. If the numbers are fiscally inappropriate, they should be rescinded.
In addition to the retirement benefits, county commissioners can also opt into life insurance, health insurance, and a monthly salary courtesy of Washington County.
According to a list obtained by the Herald & Tribune, 15 commissioners have opted to take health insurance through the county. Those indivduals are: Greg Matherly, Doyle Cloyd, Sam Humphreys, Sam Phillips, Lee Chase, Richard Matherly, Mark Ferguson, Gerald Sparks, Richard Shadden, Mark Larkey, Roger Nave, Ben Bowman, Evert Jarrett, David Shanks and Pat Wolfe.
At this point, newly elected Commissioner Joe Sheffield seems to express our view of the commission decision. Sheffield said it is part of his “platform” to see how much commissioner benefits are costing the county. He believes there are 25 citizens in Washington County who would serve on the county commission for free.
Too many officials appear to view “public service” today as an opportunity to make money at taxpayers’ expense. Without the facts of the amount of pension funds being made public, voters and the media have no method of finding how much commissioners cost the county each year. Other elected officials’ salaries are disclosed, as they should be.
Let’s have disclosure of the cost of commission health and retirement benefits. Then there can be some discussion of the future makeup and size of the Washington County Commission.