The Sorry Saga of the Solicitor Salary

While it’s still unclear if the recent confusion about the salary the new county solicitor is earning was a simple mistake or an attempt by my Commissioner colleagues to knowingly mislead the public, the matter should be made right. For taxpayers to have confidence in their government, we as elected officials not only have to do what we say, but also correct errors when they are caught.

The background is this. After our long-time solicitor retired in December, I joined with Commissioners Anderson and Courtney to hire a new solicitor at the starting wage, which we all agreed was $56,000. The new solicitor agreed to it as well. (This was only after my colleagues tried to hire a law firm, which is against the law, and some very odd confusion as to whether she was temporary or not. You can read it all in the January 6 Tribune-Review). http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/7502467-74/guiddy-solicitor-law#axzz3Rr11J9na

Last week, it was revealed that our Human Resources Department (which is under the auspices of a private management firm) gave the Commissioners bad information about the solicitor’s salary and changed it to a base rate of $69,000 without approval. Details of that unexpected raise of more than $13,000 were also reported in the February 11 Tribune-Review. http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/7749195-74/county-salary-guiddy#axzz3Rr11J9na . While not formally, or publicly, approved clearly my colleagues statements to the media verified that they were ok with the change, even if they didn’t vote on it and you were not informed about it.

This has been flawed process from the beginning and only getting worse. It’s a shame, too, that the skilled attorney we hired finds herself in the middle of a controversy through no fault of her own. I believe we made a solid choice in hiring her, and she should not be blamed for my colleagues’ mismanagement.

The local news coverage ended with a well-deserved critical editorial February 12 http://triblive.com/opinion/editorials/7740685-74/county-greensburg-jeannette#axzz3Rr11J9na . Unfortunately, coverage of the controversy did not include the simple solution I proposed.

At the February 12 meeting of the county’s Salary Board I proposed taking official public action to set the salary of the solicitor at $56,000, the figure we all agreed to at the time of the hiring, instead of the $69,000 the solicitor is now being paid. My colleagues voted against the fix, forcing a higher cost onto taxpayers.

Why on earth would we ask taxpayers to pay a wage higher than what our new solicitor asked for, and that we all agreed to? It makes no sense. It’s also bad government.

I have also proposed an internal policy change, no longer permitting the county Human Resources Department to unilaterally “correct” the personnel forms that set employee pay. Any change that alters the pay of a county employee should have the sign-off of the Commissioners.

My Republican colleagues passed on an opportunity to correct a mistake. Even if you buy that that it was just a mistake, the fact that they are refusing to fix it certainly fuels the speculation that they were caught trying to pull a fast one on you. And for Commissioners Anderson and Courtney to use “math errors” as an excuse is of no comfort to taxpayers who are now forced to pay a higher salary.