Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Commission News

18% Employee Pay Raise Put On Hold

Columbia County, FL (posted Feb. 5, 2009)

by Stew Lilker

 TDale Williamshe 18% pay raise of Columbia County’s new recreation director, Mario Coppock, appears to be on hold so that the County Commission can go over the details, according to a statement to the Observer late Wednesday by County Manager, Dale Williams.
County Manager Williams said that he is going to ask the Board to put over their deliberations until the 19th of February, explaining that, “The Board has asked me for more information and I don’t believe I would be able to have it all available by the meeting tomorrow evening.”
County Manager Williams explained that in the end of January a meeting was held with himself, City Councilman Jake Hill, County Commissioner Ronald Williams and Mr. Coppock to discuss “some issues” regarding Mr. Coppock’s position. County Manager Williams said that the meeting really wasn’t planned and that it did not have to be noticed under the provisions of the Sunshine Law, for among other reasons that Commissioner Williams “really didn’t participate.”
There is not a “really didn’t participate” provision of the Sunshine Law, something that the County Manager has been using for years as a ruse to have illegal meetings with more than one County Commissioner in his office. These illegal meetings compromised the integrity of the county workers that witnessed them and the Observer believes that this practice has finally come to an end.
City Councilman and Vice Mayor George Ward told the Observer, “If I know that a meeting hasn’t been legally noticed, I won’t participate.” City Clerk Audrey Sikes told the Observer, “If our office knows before hand of a meeting and at that meeting the topics to be discussed will be acted on in the foreseeable future, we will notice the meeting.”
As Lake City has cut their recreation program because of budget constraints, the County has picked up the slack, with long time District I Commissioner, Ronald Williams, in the forefront as the Board’s foremost supporter of county recreation.
Mr. Coppock, who is about to conclude his employment with the city after thirty years, should be coming on board with the county as a full time county employee on March 1, 2009. According to Mr. Coppock, his department will consist of two full time employees and four part time employees.
Mr. Coppock’s recollection of the events leading up to and surrounding the meeting with Councilman Hill, Commissioner Williams and the County Manager were a little different than those of County Manager Williams, with Mr. Coppock claiming that the meeting was planned, that Commissioner Williams did participate and various issues concerning his employment with the County were discussed.
Mr. Coppock told the Observer late Wednesday evening that he wasn’t aware of his proposed county job title, nor his position. Mr. Coppock also explained that he was not aware of the final salary that was to have been presented to the County Commission on Thursday night.
According to the city salary survey and conversations with the city, Mr. Coppock’s present salary is $45,000 (whole numbers). This is in line with current number presented by the County.
It is now that things begin to get a little fuzzy.
The city pay is taken from the city salary study and was verified with the city.
County Manager Williams, rather than relying on the county’s excellent Human Resources director, Michelle Crummit to come with a pay plan, did an end run around his staff and came up with a bunch of numbers and explanations that so far, defy comprehension and just make no sense.
In a memo dated January 20, 2009, County Manager Williams told the County Commission:  Due the contractual arrangement for Mario’s employment, he did not receive the benefit of salary adjustments as was afforded other City or County employees from salary surveys. This correction, with retroactivity, is requested. Computations are attached under separate memo.
The Observer advised County Manager Williams that his remarks weren’t accurate, based on the salary survey the Observer received from the City. The CM asked the Observer for those figures and that spread sheet is being e-mailed to him. County Manager Williams said that he was working from a different set of numbers.
When the Observer advised Mr. Coppock of the County Manager’s salary adjustment schedule and his proposed $54,405 salary, which included a mysterious $12,084 “longevity factor” Mr. Coppock said, “No one ever discussed this with me. This is the first I am hearing of it.”
When the Observer asked Mr. Coppock if he knew what his proposed new job title was, Mr. Coppock said, “No, do you know?”
After Mr. Coppock was advised that his position was to be “recreation director,” Mr. Coppock said, “Thank you, now I know.”
The County Manager’s proposed $54,405 for the recreation director slot represents an 18% increase over Mr. Coppocks present salary, which the County is paying to the City through February 28, 2009.
How much should Mr. Coppock be paid? Is an 18% increase over his present rate of pay excessive in these trying economic times? Do the skills and achievements that Mr. Coppock brings to the county merit additional compensation?
These and other questions are what the Board of County Commissioners has to decide.
Mr. Coppock told the Observer, “I am not opposed to the discussion. This is what makes America what it is. I have a family and I have to make plans. I am looking forward to getting on with this.”