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Taking salary hike is, well, gutsy

It’s been a busy week for us at The Press with state investigators raiding a local doctor’s office known far and wide as the spot to obtain prescription pills pretty painlessly, the fast approaching Sesquicentennial party and county fair, and the death of a youth pastor whose good works here will not be soon forgotten, all on top of the more routine happenings that we cover week in and week out.

What I hope, for a number of reasons, doesn’t get lost in this week’s edition is the article about the potential salary increase for the county’s elected officials per a convoluted state formula with the underlying premise that those elected deserve more money if they represent more people.

First, it’s worth noting that county commissioners, constitutional officers and the school district’s leaders, all up for the raises, don’t sign their own paychecks, so to speak, as it’s often said that politicians line their pockets any chance they get. Rather, the salary changes originated from up on high in Tallahassee, which also insulates local officials from defending their salary levels.

The salary adjustments fluctuate from year to year, moving a few dollars one way or the other with population shifts, often not garnering much attention.

But this year the move upward, based on the county breaking the 27,000 population threshold in 2010, involved a few hundred dollars more, sparking the interest of an anonymous caller to our office wondering why the county could afford raises for elected officials, but not the jobs of two laid off administrative employees.

It’s often because of such calls that we become aware of stories we otherwise may have missed, or arrive at too late for it to be relevant. Would so many of the elected officials polled this week about whether they intended to accept or reject the extra compensation, have chosen the latter had The Press not come calling?

As much as we’re a watchdog of government, and to a lesser extent private business, it’s invaluable to have citizens and readers to help point us in the right direction and shine a light on matters that affect the public at large. I’d like to thank that caller and encourage those of like mind to assist in our efforts to hold your leaders’ feet to the fire.

In times gone by, when unemployment was lower and GDP higher, politicians may have been more apt to accept a salary increase, reasoning that, yes, it is more difficult to govern more people and the additional compensation is therefore justified.

Now, such notions have been crushed to dust. These days, people are wondering why we pay politicians at all, particularly at the federal level when so many turn into highly-paid lobbyists.

All that said, it was incredibly refreshing to hear one local commissioner sound more like a pragmatist, throwing political conventions aside and saying, for the record, he intends to keep the extra dough.

Since being elected in 2008, Commissioner Michael Crews, a conservative Republican, has proved to be a rather outspoken representative, rarely shying away from controversial issues. It’s also not difficult to understand where the commissioner is coming from because he’ll almost always tell you, in very blunt language.

Last week was no exception.

I must admit I was a surprised by his decision, though looking back now after listening to his reasoning, it seems pretty in tune with history. This is a commissioner who loaned an elderly resident a handgun so she could feel more secure.

He justified his plans rather simply. He often gives money to people he believes need it, mentioning specifically groceries, light bills and car payments.

“I hate telling people there’s nothing I can do,” Michael Crews said. “I’ve had to tell some no, and I hate to tell them that, but the number of people needing and asking for help has increased.”

You may not agree with his decision to accept the salary increase, but the commissioner’s candor and courage to go against the prevailing political winds of the day are both worthy of respect.

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