A New Model Needed To Pay Elected Officials

On Jan. 1, Chautauqua County will have a new county executive and a new clerk.

The new county executive will have eight years less experience than his predecessor. The new clerk will have 20 fewer years on the job than their predecessor. And yet, it seems to make perfect sense that the new officials could earn more than than their more-experienced predecessors.

The situation illustrates perhaps the biggest problem with how Chautauqua County handles pay for elected officials. The charter requires a Salary Review Commission make recommendations to the County Legislature regarding salaries for the sheriff, clerk and county executive. Appointing a commission removes political parties and personality conflicts from consideration – but it also removes common sense from the discussion.

The 2008 Salary Review Commission resulted in recommendations so outlandish no changes were made. That resulted in this year’s Salary Review Commission, which resulted in even more outlandish recommendations. We think everyone agrees the system as it was designed in the county charter is broken and needs to be fixed.

One tweak is that experience should count for something. Rarely is a new private sector employee hired at the same wage as his or her predecessor. The company has to train the new employee to reach the level of productivity and competency as the old employee. The longer the employee is on the job the more the employee learns – and earns. When the employee leaves, the process – and salary – begins again.

It is a model that can be translated to government. Chautauqua County can easily create a sliding wage scale for elected officials with increases based on each year on the job. When an elected official decides not to run again or is not re-elected, the new official would start at the beginning of the pay scale. Not only are experienced officials rewarded for their knowledge, taxpayers get a break when the learning curve starts over again.