Big pay raises: More tin-eared thinking from the Ada courthouse

Here's a draft of our Friday editorial. UPDATED, 9:13 a.m., to reflect the fact that McQuade, Sonnenberg and McIntyre are in the middle of their term and not on the November ballot.

Compared to his peers in local law enforcement, Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney is underpaid.

But Raney isn’t so underpaid that he isn’t running for re-election.

Therein lies the difference between Raney and local police chiefs. While Raney has a career in law enforcement — 29 years in the sheriff’s office, including eight years in the top job — his is, ultimately, an elected position. Raney is choosing to hold and pursue public office, alongside any number of elected officials who could surely command a bigger paycheck somewhere else.

A 15 percent pay raise for an elected official — two months before an election against a third-party candidate — is too much, and badly timed.

Ada County officials defend the 15 percent raise by pointing to the numbers. In 2012, Raney made $100,465. Every police chief in the county, appointees all, made more. Raney’s job, meanwhile, is more complicated — it entails law enforcement across the county; police work performed, on a contract basis, in Eagle, Star and Kuna; and operations of a county jail.

Then there’s the matter of internal politics. Ada County commissioners approved pay increases for three of Raney’s top assistants — all 10 percent or more, and all designed to keep their pay competitive. Had his pay stayed stagnant, Raney says he would have become the fourth highest-paid employee in his own department.

We’re not suggesting that an elected official take a vow of poverty in conjunction with an oath of office. (However, $100,465 is a tad above the poverty line.) Nor do we think elected officials’ pay should be frozen in perpetuity. But 15 percent, in a tough economy? No elected official should expect or accept that.

Let’s be candid here. Raney, a Republican, goes into the fall election a prohibitive favorite. His sole opponent is Libertarian Ted Dunlap, a perennial candidate who ran for governor in 2006, governor in 2010 and Kuna City Council in 2011. The smart money suggests Raney will win and collect his larger paycheck.

But let’s take Raney out of the equation. Consider this: Assessor Bob McQuade, Treasurer Vicky McIntyre and Coroner Erwin Sonnenberg are all getting 7 percent pay raises. In their cases, the pay raise is all but a done deal; all three are in the middle of their terms, and won't be on the November ballot. If taxpayers think their raises are out of line, they don’t even have the option of casting a protest vote at the polls.

By the current standard of decisionmaking at the Ada County Courthouse, these pay raises don’t come close to the Dynamis threshold. But it reflects the kind of tin-eared thinking that has become business as usual around the commissioners’ office.

One question that should be raised; should these positions

be elected? These are all professional positions that require ever higher levels of expertise and education in order to perform them at a high level. Why are they still being held as a popularity contest?

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart