We always hate to see politicians and other public officials feather their own nests with taxpayer dollars.
No where is that phenomenon more repugnant than when politicians decide to hike their own salaries, which, after all, are paid by all of the taxpayers in their jurisdiction.
So this week, it was the town council in the small town of Haw River, where members decided that they deserved a 5 percent increase in their pay.
We don’t know who to blame more for the net result: the town manager, Sean Tencer, who initially proposed the raise for his bosses – a rather ingratiating, self-serving gesture, in our judgment.
Or the majority of the town council members (other than mayor Kelly Allen) who sat quietly while they let their own pay raise go into effect.
Let’s start with Tencer.
Town managers shouldn’t be in the business of trying to sneak in pay raises for the elected officials who govern their municipality.
Doing so reeks of an obsequious, fawning, sycophantic appeal to impress, and please, those who govern and control the manager himself – and, ultimately, his own salary.
Tencer decided to propose a 5 percent pay raise for all Haw River town employees.
Fair enough. That’s pretty similar to other raises being proposed in other local municipalities.
We think it is quite generous in the context of what’s happening in the private sector, where most taxpayers reside.
But at least the relative increase in salaries in Haw River was fairly similar to other areas – for instance 6 percent in Mebane; 4 percent (proposed) in Graham.
But aside from the self-serving nature of the manager’s gesture, we think it insulting – to actual town employees, the public at large, and should be offensive to the town council members – to link council members’ monthly stipends to the salaries of actual town “employees” as though they, themselves, are, somehow “employees.” They’re not. But that was part of the justification Tencer used.
In an interview with the newspaper, he even ruminated on the justification that council members are having to pay higher gas prices. Raising their pay would be “generous,” he surmised.
Excuse us: Haw River is a small town. Most councilmen don’t have to drive even one mile to get to town hall.
We hardly think higher gas prices for their commute to a monthly town council meeting necessitates special consideration.
And, dare we ask, what about the rest of Haw River residents? Does anyone care that they have to pay higher gas prices?
They didn’t get any consideration in the Haw River town budget.
While their property taxes didn’t go up, in the new budget they’re going to have to dig a little deeper to pay higher water and sewer bills each month.
Now to the council members.
Again, we commend mayor Kelly Allen, both for the substance of her position, in opposing the pay raise – and, indeed, her stated plan to refuse to take any compensation in the future. (In an interview, she noted that when she first ran for office, she didn’t even know there would be any compensation, much less at what level it was to be set.)
Her position is also consistent with what she said she would do when she was running for mayor in 2019. She said she would oppose higher pay for the mayor and council member; then-mayor Buddy Boggs said he favored higher pay.
In 2021, we asked a similar question to town council candidates. “Would you vote to increase the amounts [salaries for the mayor and members of the town council] during your term or keep them the same?”
Then-incumbent councilman Lee Lovette, who was re-elected, and first-time candidate Shawn Riggan, who was subsequently elected, both responded to the questionnaire (keep in mind this is less than a year ago) that the pay was “adequate” and that they pledged they would vote to “keep [it] the same” during their term.
Less than a year later, Riggan voted himself a raise.
Lovette was absent this week (due to back surgery), but spoke against the pay raise last month.
Meanwhile, Riggan, sat silently, never saying a peep this month or last, totally reneging on his pledge to keep council pay the “same,” as he had promised just last fall. Not a very auspicious start for a four-year term.
Equally silent was council member Patty Wilson, elected in 2019.
The only vocal support for the pay raise came – surprisingly in our view, since we thought him more conscientious – from councilman Steve Lineberry, who suggested last month that the councilmen deserved such an increase.
Lineberry also took the position that because taxpayers didn’t revolt when the town council saddled them with a 15 percent tax increase a few years ago, the council could probably increase their own salaries without drawing any overt rebellion from residents.
But apparently accurate.
No one spoke at the public hearing this week.
And maybe no one will care that they gave themselves a pay raise.
We find little consolation in a justification that other politicians have also gone back on their word, i.e., that “everyone’s doing it.” Gibsonville aldermen also bestowed a raise on themselves earlier this year, even after all (but one) of them had promised not to do so when they were running for office.
We know Haw River is small town, but somehow we expect a small town’s elected officials to be more conscientious, more honest, more forthright, and more concerned for their taxpayers than their larger city brethren.
But not this week.