Grundy Board moves to equalize officials' salaries
Coroner's salary increased for 2013 to match others'
With a raise approved for fiscal 2013, the Grundy County Coroner will be paid the same amount — $76,695.63 — as the circuit clerk, county clerk and treasurer for the first two years of the next term.
It is an equalization that one candidate for coroner has fought for each time the salary has been set over the past several years, and which the other candidate told the Grundy County Board Tuesday is not merited by the current workload of the Grundy County coroner’s office.
“I don’t feel the salary increase is warranted for the amount of work the coroner does,” said Phyliss Dralle, the Democratic candidate for coroner in November and a former assistant coroner under the current officer holder, Republican John Callahan.
She added during the public comment portion of the board’s regular meeting that if the office were dealing with a large volume of deaths, she might think differently, but noted the office did just 18 true death investigations during the past year. She also noted the office was also just given a full-time assistant.
Callahan, after the board had exited the room to begin an executive session, questioned how Dralle had arrived at the figure of 18, although he did not cite a different number.
“We should stick to facts and real numbers,” he said.
The fact, Callahan indicated, is that the approximately $2,700 raise the coroner will receive in fiscal 2013 only brings the office even with other elected officials’. The coroner has made less than the clerks and treasurer since 2008. In 2006 and 2007, the offices all had the same salaries. Prior to that, there was discrepancy as well.
Callahan has long argued the position should actually pay more than those other positions and be more in line with that of the Grundy County Sheriff because – like the sheriff – the coroner is on call around the clock.
“The coroner’s office, versus the clerk, treasurer and circuit clerk – there’s almost a $3,000 difference today,” Callahan said during a Personnel Committee meeting in March at which the increase was discussed. “Which the obvious difference for me that’s hard for me to accept is their office runs 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (as does the coroner’s, but) I’m on call the other 16 hours a day and weekends.”
Despite that argument, and an additional request by Callahan during the committee meeting that the coroner receive a 2.5 percent raise in 2013 to create a differential in the coroner’s favor, the county board voted to freeze both the coroner’s and the circuit clerk’s salaries for 2013 and increase the pay for each to $78,613.02 for the final two years of their terms – 2014 and 2015.
The county clerk and the treasurer will be elected prior to fiscal 2014, so their salaries will be set – and, if tradition holds, raised to the same $78,613.02 level – in advance of the elections for those positions. Law prohibits an office holder’s pay from being adjusted during their term.
The setting of the salaries for both the circuit clerk and coroner were met with some dissension on Tuesday. The salary for the circuit clerk was approved on a 14-3 vote, with Jeremy Ly, David Welter and Ralph Wagner opposed. The three were joined by Frank Halpin, Richard Joyce, Tom Poole and Richard Steele in opposing the coroner’s salary, which was approved on a 9-7 vote, with Michael Throneberg abstaining.
Callahan, who was originally appointed coroner as a Democrat years ago, but switched to the Republican party in order to run in his own right in the next election, claimed on Tuesday that politics were behind the dissension on Tuesday. However, four of those voting against the salary for the coroner – Ly, Halpin, Joyce and Poole – are Democrats, which the other three are Republicans. Throneberg is also a Democrat.
“As you watch the vote go down … you can certainly see the political slant to this,” he said Tuesday night, “and it’s really too bad to see politics get in the way in something of this nature.”
It was politics of a different kind – the proverbial office politics – that had many believing the board was headed for a vote on the fate of another county official Tuesday night.
After an hour-and-45-minute executive session, however, no vote was taken, County Administrator Shawn Hamilton remained at his post, and he and County Board Chairman Ron Severson were each publicly proclaiming their willingness to move forward for the good of the county.
“There were 19 individuals in that room focused on moving the county forward,” said Hamilton, who indicated after the meeting that the board, during the executive session, had conducted a mid-year review of his performance since being hired in September 2011. “We are focusing on the future and not on the past.”
Severson, who had opposed Hamilton’s hiring and refused to sign the contact after the board voted to approve Hamilton as its choice, also acknowledged the forward-thinking approach.
“We made an open, honest discussion to move forward with the administrator and myself,” Severson said. “I’m committed to making that happen.
The question of whether the two could and would continue to work together arose during a Personnel Committee meeting in late March – just prior to the primary elections – at which Hamilton aired his concerns about Severson and the work environment at the county.
“The environment here is difficult at times,” Hamilton told the committee after Severson, who had been in attendance at the lengthy session, had already departed. “Individually and collectively, there is no interaction with the chairman of the board. At best, there is interaction one time a week.”
In a phone conversation the day after the meeting with the Morris Daily Herald, Severson branded Hamilton’s accusations “lies” and put the blame for the lack of communication squarely on Hamilton.
“He never comes into my office…,” Severson said. (Hamilton) spends his time in the (human resources) office. He never comes to see me.”