Monday, August 17, 2009

Penny Wise Pound Foolish

Barney's been looking into his electron microscope, which means he's off on another one of his tangents, this time about the Lake County Board pay raises. Most people are opposed to giving pay raises to elected officials. Barney, which shouldn't surprise me, is in favor of pay raises for elected officials. And substantial ones.

Suzi Schmidt, Lake County Board Chairwoman, has made a big deal over giving her pay raise back to the county treasurer. What gets lost in the fanfare is that since Schmidt is County Chair her salary is something north of $80,000 while the rest of the Board makes $40,000. This puts Schmidt in a far better position, financially, to say no to a raise.

The common perception is theirs is a part-time job and Board members don't deserve a pay raise. The reality is Board meetings are scheduled at irregular and inconvenient times that make it difficult if not impossible for a Board member to hold a 9 to 5 job. As a matter of fact most Lake County Board members are either unemployed or self-employed.

I don't intend to single out the County Board. You see the same thing occurring in all units of government, village boards, township boards, school boards, etc. Wherever the seat is under-compensated, more often than not the person occupying the seat is someone with the wealth or the means to do so.

This shouldn't be a cause for concern except the purpose of these these boards are to manage taxpayer dollars. In many cases considerably large amounts of taxpayer dollars. The natural question to ask is -- just who are this purality of wealthy or well-connected people who perform as under-paid public servants and manage substantial chunks of our taxpayer dollars?
• Wealthy individuals who stand to financially benefit from government transactions.

• Friends or representatives of wealthy individuals who stand to financially benefit from government transactions.

• Representatives of special interests who stand to financially benefit from government transactions.

• Spouses or children of any of the above.
Go look up the bios of some of the Lake County Board members. You may be surprised -- or unsurprised as the case may be.

I'm not saying anything illegal is going on behind the scenes. (I'm also naive if I think laws are never broken.) However it's always better to know in advance how, when and where large parcels of money are to be moved around. That's how small fortunes can turn into bigger fortunes.

The purpose of a Democracy is a self-governing citizenry. When those citizens are diverse and ordinary people they can be expected to govern in the interests of everyone, and not just in the interests of a fortunate few. However, if ordinary people do not get the financial support to govern, then do not expect ordinary people to step forward to govern. When that happens, the special interests fill the vacuum. And Democracy blurs over into Oligarchy.

There's that old phrase, penny wise and pound foolish. That's what's playing out with the County Board pay-raise melodrama. The voters are being encouraged by elected officials like Suzi Schmidt, and others, to be penny wise and expect low salaries for our elected officials. Which all but guarantees the foxes will continue to govern the henhouses.


Nicki said...

Food for thought, Redtail. But it's kind of a conundrum. The higher the pay, the more attractive the job is to people who aren't really interested in public service. If it's really meant to be a part-time job, the meetings should be scheduled at times when working people can participate.

Anonymous said...

Look who is in power now on a local level-how bad can it be if we lower pay? Not much.

redtail said...

Hi Nicki,
I read today that a real estate developer's wife just resigned from her seat on the Wheeling Park Board. My feeling is as long as these local district boards are un-or-under-paid, then the special interests -- developers for instance -- will pack these boards with their cronies.