If anyone is wondering why the public has become so cynical about politicians, all one has to do is look at Gibsonville’s board of aldermen on Monday night.
While other local government boards have ambushed the public on other topics recently – by adopting a new paid government holiday (Graham in November, by deciding to give Veterans Day off to city employees two days later), eliminating prayer from their meetings (Mebane’s mayor in December, although possibly to be revised based on city council action this week) – Gibsonville’s aldermen did their own ambush this week, to reward themselves with a sneaky, mid-year pay raise, without any input from the town’s residents.
No public input needed – or wanted
Should there be a public hearing on the issue? Not necessary, says mayor Lenny Williams, while acknowledging that he had contended so in the past.
Should the public have been notified in some manner? They could have looked at the board’s agenda, says Williams, who cooked up the scheme for himself and his five board members; even then, the agenda had been available for only a few days in between two holiday weekends.
But it was clear the aldermen didn’t really care what the citizens thought; they just wanted more money.
History of scheming for pay raises
Sneaky pay raises are apparently the rule of thumb in Gibsonville. In 2014, town manager Ben Baxley tried to slip a $500 raise for board members into the proposed 2014-2015 budget.
While he claimed to have done it on his own, we suspect some of the greedy and duplicitous aldermen put him up to it.
At any rate, when it was discovered, the public (understandably) exploded, and aldermen removed it from the budget.
But a few years later, mayor Lenny Williams was leading the parade for higher wages for himself and other board members. And in doing so, he prompted four members to violate their promises to the voters (as recently as 2021) that they would oppose higher remuneration for board of aldermen members.
Promises? What promises?
Here’s why the public’s cynicism grows.
Four of the five aldermen had pledged, when they were running for election or re-election during the past two election cycles, that they were opposed to increasing the tax-paid compensation for service on the town board.
Readers will be interested to see the convoluted logic members used to avoid acknowledging that they had, quite simply, broken their word. More on that in a minute.
Here’s the question from The Alamance News issues questionnaire put to board of aldermen candidates in 2019 (that’s just a little more than two years ago): Would you support or oppose any increase in pay for members of the board of aldermen during your term?
The candidates’ responses were published in the October 24, 2019 edition, as follows:
Alderman Mark Shepherd: Oppose.
Alderman Clarence Owen: Oppose.
Candidate (subsequently elected) Yvonne Maizland: Oppose.
Candidate (not elected in 2019) Paul Thompson: Oppose.
A more specific question was posed during the 2021 election cycle: Members of the board of aldermen are currently paid as follows: mayor, $3,400 annually; mayor pro tem, $3,000 annually; and aldermen, $2,700 annually. Are those amounts adequate and fair? a. Would you vote to increase the amounts during your term or keep them the same? b. If raise, by how much?
In our October 21, 2021 edition, we included the responses from candidates, including Paul Thompson, who was subsequently elected this time around: His response: “Yes,” the salaries were adequate and fair. “Keep the same,” said Thompson in choosing between voting to increase the amount in the future or keep it the same.
But this week, on Monday night – just two months after being elected and less than three months after making that pledge – it was an entirely new position for Thompson and three other members who had vowed in 2019 that they, too, would oppose any pay raise.
Yet each of the four voted for a $700 annual increase in their own salaries and those of their fellow board members.
Let’s see, how should we rank our, and surely Gibsonville’s voters’, levels of disappointment, disillusionment, and disgust?
We think first place for has to go to new alderman Paul Thompson who both most recently (in 2021) and most often (in unsuccessful previous races in 2015, 2017, and 2019) assured voters and our readers that he would oppose increasing pay for members of the board of aldermen.
Next, mayor pro tem Mark Shepherd. He said, in both 2015 and 2019, that he would oppose a raise for members of the board of aldermen.
In fact, in 2015, Shepherd added the following broader pledge and assurance in his response to our questionnaire: “I would not support an increase at this time or in the future.” [Emphasis added, which only heightens our dismay at his cavalier willingness this week to violate his previous pledges.]
Yet, in 2022, he’s the member who makes the motion to up every board member’s pay by $700.
And we can’t let mayor Lenny Williams off the hook. For years, the mayor cultivated the reputation as a budget hawk, always claiming to look for ways to tighten the town’s budget or improve efficiency.
When he was re-elected in 2015, he assured voters that he would oppose a pay raise for members of the board, as he had when the town manager attempted to slip in a $500 raise the year before, adding, “We have many seniors in town who are on Social Security and will not get a raise,” he noted. “The town board should not get a raise,” he said.
This week, those seniors were in the far distant rear view mirror.
At least Baxley’s 2014 effort was during the budget cycle, even if proposed quietly (and in fine print).
This week, the “urgency” for an increase meant it just had to be adopted now; no waiting for the public’s opinion, or an open budget process.
By 2019, Williams had changed his tune. We at least give him credit for greater honesty, if not consistency, as opposed to his colleagues – who were neither consistent nor forthright about their positions – that he then favored an increase in compensation for board members.
And this week, he had obtained all sorts of comparisons with other municipalities in order to try to justify higher salaries. Williams and other members are loathe to have Gibsonville compared to a Hooterville or other fictional small towns, but they invite the derision that inevitably follows decisions like this week’s flagrant money-grab.
If they would just do things in a straightforward, honest, and professional way, it wouldn’t be so bad. But going back on one’s word is never going to go over well – any time, on any topic.
Then, there’s Yvonne Maizland, still in her first term, who had promised during the campaign in 2019 that she would oppose pay raises for members of the board.
Oh, but now she says, she realizes how much work it is to be a member of the board of aldermen.
We’ve noticed that in Gibsonville and elsewhere, there is rarely a shortage of those willing to serve.
Also hilarious is the juxtaposition between the following two positions that she demonstrated: Maizland and a couple of other members claimed to this newspaper’s publisher they didn’t even know they would be compensated when they first filed to run for office.
After all, it is a volunteer position.
But now, they just have to have more money to do the jobs they didn’t think they got paid for at all.
Clarence Owen, like Williams, has a more checkered past regarding pay raise promises. In 2015, he said he favored a raise in one answer in our questionnaire and, on another, that he would oppose one. In 2019, he reiterated his opposition to a pay raise for members of the board.
But he was front and center Monday night, supporting his pay raise at taxpayer expense.
Bryant Crisp apologized that he had not responded to the newspaper’s questionnaire during the 2021 campaign. Thus, we don’t know whether he would have lived up to his word or not.
On Monday, however, just a month into his term, however, he felt that he deserved a $700 raise.
All in all, it was a sorry, self-serving display Monday night in Gibsonville.
And if they can’t be trusted to keep this basic promise, it doesn’t give us much confidence that they’re going to fulfill much else of what they promise during a campaign season.
More twisted logic
Equally amusing were the contortions that board members went through to try to rationalize that they were not really voting in favor of a pay raise in order to benefit themselves. HA! Rather, several of them tried to act as though they were doing it for others on the board.
Maizland claimed to want to subsidize the mayor.
The mayor claimed to want to help the aldermen who “only “ made $2,700 per year.
And on it went in a sort of updated Alphonse and Gaston display from the turn of the 20th century: “‘After you, Alphonse.’, ‘No, you first, my dear Gaston!’”
Coming in last, to both Alphonses and Gastons on the board of aldermen, however, were the taxpayers of Gibsonville.
They’ll have to pay the burden of the aldermen’s generosity to themselves.
Oh, it’s “only” $2,400 over the next six months (presumably about $4,800 for a full fiscal year), the town manager explained.
But it’s an expense far more costly than just tax dollars.
It’s one of the most costly expenditures of all, because it comes at the expense of their honesty and integrity, which this week just didn’t seem to count for much, and further erodes public trust in government.