One of the justifications for a pay increase passed last year for Baldwin County Commissioners is being questioned, as voters gear up to head to the polls in two months for the 2018 primary elections.
When he passed the legislation last year to give commissioners in Alabama’s largest county by area a pay increase, Rep. Steve McMillan (R-Gulf Shores) said one of the reasons for the move was because it was treated like a full-time job. He stands by the rationale now, despite many of the candidates running for a commission seat this year already having full-time jobs.
“I think it’s fair compensation,” McMillan said in a phone interview last week. “In Baldwin County, it’s a full-time job.”
In early 2014, the Baldwin County Commission passed its own pay increase, but the state capped those raises. At the time, several commissioners favored the pay increase — more doubling salaries at the time — and used the “full-time job” as justification.
McMillan’s bill increased commissioners’ pay based on a formula tied to the county’s average per-capita family income, he said. The salaries could go up to $50,000 per year or more and would take effect at the beginning of the new term. The pay is currently set at $34,000.
With that in mind, Lagniappe asked several of the 11 candidates running at large for the districted seats on the Baldwin County Commission if they would quit their jobs upon election for the “full-time” pay.
Not surprisingly, no candidate said they would quit their current job. One said he would take a leave of absence, one said he would retire and two more are currently retired.
Daphne City Councilman John Lake, a Republican who is running for the District 2 commission seat currently held by Chris Elliott, said he would take a leave of absence from Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula if elected to the commission.
“I will take a leave of absence from my employer to allow me to accomplish my task,” he said.
Lake said the ability to take time off for political office is in his contract with the company. At 57, Lake is three years from being able to consider retirement, he said.
Furthermore, Lake said he expects to be busy enough if elected to the commission to need to take the time off, and that he would feel the raise was unwarranted if the job isn’t one that keeps him busy.
“I expect to be busy,” Lake said. “If I’m not then I’m going to be awfully mad about the pay (increase). You’re going to hear me scream about it.”
Lake said it’s important to him not to take advantage of the taxpayers in Baldwin County.
“In my mind, taxes are viewed as sweat,” he said. “It represents the sweat of the people who worked.”
Lake will be facing Republican and Daphne City Councilman Joe Davis for the commission seat. Davis did not respond to a request for comment for this story. He resigned from the Daphne City Council in 2015, after the board rejected by a 4-3 vote the pre-zoning and annexation of a parcel of land connected to the proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex.
Also in the race for District 2 is Democrat Amber Smith. Smith also did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Will McDaniel, a 68-year-old nurse running for the District 3 seat currently held by incumbent Tucker Dorsey, said he would retire from his job whether or not he’s elected to the commission.
“I will be dedicated full time to this job,” McDaniel said of the commission.
Dorsey, who defended the raises in 2016, had a similar take when asked last week. Between a full slate of meetings each month, working with colleagues in Mobile and trips to Montgomery and Washington, D.C., on occasion, Dorsey said he works overtime for the commission each week.
“For me, I put in more than full time, about 50 hours per week,” he said. “It’s more than making sure there are no potholes. It is beyond a full-time job.”
Dorsey said he spends much more time on commission issues than he does at his job in construction and real estate development.
“This is a big old place and there’s a lot going on,” he said.
While stopping short of saying commissioners deserved a pay increase, Dorsey did defend the raise, saying higher pay would lead to better candidates.
“It incentivizes good people to run for this job,” he said. “For $10 an hour, it takes a special person to do it …. ”
Republican Billie Jo Underwood, who is also running for the District 3 seat in the June 5 primary, said she would do less work as a certified public accountant if elected to the commission. As for the possibility of an added workload, Underwood is not concerned.
“I’m accustomed to hard work and I’m deadline driven,” she said. “I’m a workaholic. Anybody who knows me knows that. I’m up to the task.”
Democrat Heather Brown is also running for the District 3 seat. She could not be reached for comment as of press time. She will face the GOP winner in November.
James E. “Jeb” Ball is one of two Republicans facing off in June. He is hoping to unseat incumbent Frank Burt for the commission’s District 1 seat. Ball told Lagniappe he plans to keep working full time as program director for Baldwin Substance Abuse Services in Bay Minette.
“The pay was never a factor,” Ball said of his decision to run for County Commission. “I’m going to keep my full-time job.”
Ball said he considers the commission “part-time jobs with a lot of full-time action.”
“You could be called out in the middle of the night,” he said.
Burt, who is a retired pharmacist, said he views the County Commission work as full time.
“I’m a full-time county commissioner all the time,” he said. “It’s always been a full-time job for me.”
Incumbent District 4 Commissioner Skip Gruber is retired, but views the commission as a full-time job.
“It’s a bit of a sacrifice, but one I chose,” Gruber said of the commission. “Yeah, it’s a full-time job. I treat it like a full-time job.”
Gruber will be facing Republican Jerry Johnson in the GOP primary in June. Johnson, who co-owns a consulting firm with his wife in Orange Beach, did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
This story initially reported Joe Davis was a former member of the Daphne City Council. He was re-elected in 2016 a currently represents Daphne’s District 7.