The Mobile County Commission voted Monday to shelve a proposal that would have passed recent pay hikes for law enforcement on to the upper management of Mobile Metro Jail — halting a potential $10,000 raise for warden Trey Oliver.
The decision comes less than a month after commissioners approved a 7.5 percent raise for all Mobile County Sheriff’s Office deputies and corrections officers.
However, Sheriff Sam Cochran asked the commission this week to extend the same pay increase to a handful of employees left out of the slate of raises in February, including some of the highest-grossing public safety employees on the county’s payroll.
According to records obtained from the Mobile County Personnel Board, Oliver was making $123,543 in 2015 along with another $20,398 in medical and retirement benefits. At the same time, Deputy Warden Sam Houston was making more than $80,000 plus another $7,000 in benefits, though both he and Oliver have received cost-of-living adjustments since then.
Commissioners ultimately voted 2-1 to remove Oliver and Houston from a pay raise they extended to a pair of inmate work supervisors who also missed out on last month’s pay hike.
In addition to the concerns over the upper management’s current level of compensation, Commissioner Connie Hudson and President Mercia Ludgood questioned how raises for top-tier employees fit into the narrative Cochran has given while pushing for the salary adjustments over the past two years.
“I was under the impression the 7.5 percent [increase] was because we were having trouble attracting and retaining corrections officers and deputies. Are we also having trouble keeping a warden, a deputy warden and inmate supervisors?” Ludgood asked. “What I heard was that it was supposed to help recruit and attract, but when you have somebody in positions making in excess of $100,000, I think it’s pretty likely they’re going to stay there, but that’s just me.”
Though her comments were direct, Ludgood’s opposition to extending the pay raise further wasn’t surprising given that she also opposed extending the initial pay raise last month, due to concerns over the county’s ability to absorb the additional and ongoing expenses.
However, Hudson actually put together the $2.8 million plan the commission adopted last month — one that could ultimately extend a 10 percent raise to law enforcement, as well as an additional 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment to all county employees.
On Monday, Hudson motioned to separate and postpone the proposed raises for Oliver and Houston, despite the fact that they — like other MCSO employees — are employed through the merit system established by the Mobile County Personnel Board.
Hudson said she was “agreeable” to delaying those raises until there’s more time to speak with Cochran about the need for increasing the salary for those positions. Despite that, Hudson said “the door is still open” for those raises to be approved.
“The warden and deputy warden are included as merit system employees, but they’re making over six figures,” Hudson said. “I think the issue here has been [finding a way] to recruit and retain qualified people at the starting level as opposed to the upper management.”
District 3 Commissioner Jerry Carl was the only commissioner who supported extending the pay raise to all four employees Cochran suggested, saying, “I think we need to go ahead with it and move on to deal with other issues.”
While some members of the MCSO staff attended the meeting, Cochran did not, and thus was unable to address the commission about the subject.On Monday morning, Oliver told Lagniappe he could “understand why” his salary wasn’t considered for an increase, but added that Houston’s salary definitely “needs adjusting.”
“His workload, responsibilities and exemplary performance more than justify the increase, and if the two captains who report to him receive an adjustment, which they richly deserve, then so should [Houston],” Oliver said. “Metro Jail is extremely fortunate to have someone of his background and experience on board.”
Though no action was taken, Ludgood and Hudson also discussed asking Cochran to “formally withdraw” a bill his office advertised at the beginning of the current legislative session that aims to earmark at least some of county’s expected online sales tax revenue for his officers.
That bill — proposed before the commission approved the 7.5 percent raises in late February — caught all three commissioners off guard when it was initially advertised. While it hasn’t moved forward in the Legislature, it’s still listed as “advertised but not yet introduced.”
On Monday, Ludgood said she’d “feel a lot better” if Cochran would take steps to formally withdraw the bill.
“I think there would have to be some agreement to [move forward on the bill within the local delegation], and I think they are all well aware of the action the commission has taken with the recent salary increases,” Hudson replied. “But, you’re right. I think the only ironclad way to make sure is to ask that it be formally withdrawn, and I think we can do that.”