Two county commissioners turn down raise

Bowing to public criticism, two Jackson County commissioners say they won't take a 26 percent salary increase they recently approved for themselves.

"I commend you for returning your salary," said Medford resident Nancy Clark at the county commissioners' Wednesday meeting.

Commissioners C.W. Smith and Dave Gilmour announced they would forgo the raise that would have increased their salaries from $68,432 to $86,341. Both Smith and Gilmour said they would not even take a cost-of-living increase.

Commissioner Jack Walker said he still planned to accept the salary boost that took effect July 1.

Walker said the county went through considerable effort to come up with an equitable pay structure for elected officials.

The raises came after a report prepared by a salary committee found a large disparity between how much elected officials earned compared with department heads and other county managers. The increases also were approved earlier by the county budget committee.

The county's nine elected officials received salary hikes that together totaled $98,040.

Walker said he would stand by his decision even though commissioners have received criticism from the public.

"I'd just as soon take the flak," he said.

Smith, however, said the public outcry convinced him otherwise.

"I heard what people had to say and took it to heart," Smith said. "This is not the first time I've changed my view or opinion on issues, and it won't be the last."

He said the new salary schedule would remain in place even though he won't take the raise. Smith said he couldn't rule out the possibility of taking an increase based on the new salary once the economy improves.

Both Smith and Gilmour apologized for the political distraction caused by the controversy over the wage increase.

Gilmour said that his decision should not be taken as a condemnation of the raise that was given to department heads or other elected officials.

Jim Olney, an Ashland Democrat who is running for Smith's position, said Smith made a strong stand in previous weeks about supporting the wage hike.

"Now, he has totally caved in on his total commitment to the increase," he said. "If you believe in something and make the right decision, you stick with it."

Olney said he would not accept the increase if elected and would work to rescind the new salary schedule.

He accused Smith of playing a political game.

"It was just a bad decision &

just embarrassing," said Olney.

Smith said, "There is no way a person can turn in a political year and make everybody happy."

He said the new salary schedule for commissioners will remain in place because it offers equal pay and equal treatment of elected officials.

The salary schedule makes sense to him on a logical level, and he said all the work that various county officials have undertaken over the past two years has greatly improved the budget situation.

However, Smith said, "We may not have been as mindful of the political issues as we should have been."

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