County Attorney Mike Knight said, “That was not out of county coffers.
“The funds being used for this increase are coming out of funds that I have control over and that are generated within our office.”
During the county court’s Monday meeting, Knight told commissioners, who ultimately approved the raise, that he did not need their permission to offer the increase in salary.
“As a department head, I have the ability to do things for my people that other department heads don’t,” Knight said. “That is not a factor of the will or of the desire of other department heads to try to take care of their people. It is just a question of ability.”
It was Ken Haggard, county commissioner, who first questioned Knight about the increase of a secretary from $29,543 to $33,043.
“We just gave a 5 percent raise across the board,” Haggard said.
Knight responded that he wanted to ensure his employees received “equal pay for equal work.
“Also, the average tenure within my department is 12 years,” he said. “There is a learning curve, and I would like to keep people that know what they’re doing and know how to do something with the county.”
Knight said that as county attorney, his office has two additional sources of funding — a hot check fund and a pretrial diversion fund.
“Those are funds that are subject to my sole control,” he said.
Funding for the salary increase, he said, would come out of these funds.
“I grant you it is confusing because there are not many positions in county government that are set up like this,” he said.
Zenaida Silva, district clerk, spoke with concern about the increase.
“I understand she picked up a lot of responsibilities — but it really brings morale down,” she told commissioners. “All of us here in the county... we all work hard.
“It is better when you have equality in salary.
“My deputies became aware of it not through me but by other people when they saw the agenda. It really brings morale down, but I tell them I try to do the best I can with the money I am budgeted.”
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt also voiced concern about the ripple effect this could cause.
“I am sure there are other departments that have discretionary funds. They are going to come before us in the next two or three weeks saying, ‘There is somebody I want to give a salary increase to because you did it through the county attorney’s office.’”
Knight responded, “Quite frankly, the funds are within my control and, with all due respect, I don’t need commissioners court approval to do so...”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.