It was all about pay, Monday, in commissioners court.
Concerns about a low starting pay making it difficult to hire and keep “good people;” unequal pay between county justice of the peace clerks; and a misunderstood starting pay scale for jailers prolonged the regular session meeting from 9 a.m. until nearly noon.
A disparity in pay, created four years ago when a clerk transferred to the Brown County Justices of the Peace office making more than the clerk who was to train her for the new job, has continued to “fester and be a problem.”
Monday, Justice of the Peace Jim Cavanaugh asked the court for a raise for the lesser paid of the two.
“We’ve got two ladies, same title, same job description, one trained the other for the job. Their positions are comparable in every way, but with every pay check the disparity grows and grows,” Cavanaugh said.
The commissioners courtroom was filled with supporters for the equal pay for the two clerks, all four justices of the peace and county constables.
“What we’re asking for is parity,” Cavanaugh said, “not by penalizing the girl making more, but by raising the salary of the one making less.”
Constable Bob Beadel stood to address the court, saying he feared the clerk with seniority and the valuable knowledge of the law and court would leave if her pay could not be equalized.
Rhonda Durkop, clerk for Precincts 1 and 4, is paid about $1,500 a year less than Victoria Collom, who is the clerk for Precincts 2 and 3. JP Bob Wall, whose court is served by Collom, asked if money could be found in the budget to equalize the pay. For instance, Wall said, he would not collect from the county on his education allowance, or his mileage, and that amount of money could make the difference.
“We depend on Rhonda,” said Precinct 4 Constable Belinda Salyer. “Rhonda has a lot of knowledge, and we need her experience.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Larry Traweek made a motion to equalize the salaries, and Precinct 1 Commissioner Steve Adams made a “second” to the motion. But Precinct 2 Commissioner Joel Kelton and Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Gist voted against the motion, and County Judge Ray West’s vote against the motion broke the tie.
District Clerk Jan Brown requested a raise in the $15,500 starting salary in her office. Twice in the last year, Brown said, employees have gone to work downstairs in the courthouse, for $22,000, almost half again the amount paid in the clerk’s office.
Brown’s request Monday was to split the difference between the $15,500 starting salary in the $18,230.94 salary being paid the employee leaving, and raise the starting salary to $17,000 and give another employee in the office a $1,200 raise.
“We cannot get a qualified employee for $15,500. The lady I’ve interviewed, who has experience and one year of college, won’t come for that amount of money,” Brown said. “I think she might come if I can raise the starting salary to $17,000.”
After lengthy discussion, West asked if there was a motion. No one made a motion, and Brown advised she would continue to advertise and try to fill the position.
Sheriff Bobby Grubbs told the court his understanding had been that the 4 percent raises offered to county employees would also apply to starting salaries. Two jailers had been offered positions at the higher pay.
Commissioners approved the hires, but at the lower starting salary rate.