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Opinion: Off-putting pay raise for Oklahoma County officials

Gov. Kevin Stitt drew criticism recently as being tone-deaf for encouraging tourism to Oklahoma at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising. That move pales in comparison with a decision last week by a majority of Oklahoma County’s elected officials.

At a special budget board meeting Dec. 23, officials voted 5-2 to raise their annual salaries by $17,375. Effective Friday, this will boost the salary of the county assessor, treasurer, court clerk, county clerk, sheriff and three county commissioners to $122,637.50.

That’s a 16.5% raise, approved during a pandemic that has forced tens of thousands of Oklahomans to the unemployment line. Thus the instant review by one activist who attended the meeting: “This is disgusting.”

Those who voted for the raise were Assessor Larry Stein, Treasurer Butch Freeman, Court Clerk Rick Warren, County Clerk David Hooten and District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert. Voting against were District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan and District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey. An undersheriff abstained on behalf of Sheriff P.D. Taylor, who lost his re-election bid this year and will be leaving office in January.

Approval of pay raises for the county’s eight elected officials used to fall to the county commissioners, who had not granted any in more than a decade. A change in the law gave the granting authority to the elected officials themselves.

Proponents of the raises argued that they were needed to help keep and recruit good employees, because by law those employees cannot make more than the elected officials can.

Stein said better pay elsewhere prompted a mapper in the assessor’s office to leave for a job with another municipality. “I need high-tech people. High-tech people are not cheap,” Stein said. “And I need them to be working for me. And I need this to be able to compete … for good help.”

Maughan took issue with that argument, saying officials were “talking about the senior staff getting a raise.”

“This is just to increase those who make just less than the elected official’s salary,” Maughan said. “… So this isn’t about helping those that make low-income salaries that work for Oklahoma County.”

Maughan also made a point that many taxpayers likely share — the pay raises should have been considered during a regularly scheduled monthly meeting instead of during a special budget board meeting.

“This being done on Christmas Eve eve, I think stinks to high heaven,” he said.

Freeman, who has weathered plenty of battles during his nearly three decades as county treasurer, said it well when discussing the raises: “There’s never a good time. It’s just going to be that simple.”

Freeman is right. However, the optics surrounding this vote were especially bad, and they overshadow the valid reasons officials may have had for approving such a hefty pay increase.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›