Running for public office is no cakewalk. Not only is there a lot of issues for candidates to get caught up to speed on, but there’s also a new spotlight shed on candidates’ lives, decisions, experiences and perhaps indiscretions. That said, the real hard work begins when you get into office. Our representatives’ opinions, actions and thoughts are published by media outlets and constantly scrutinized by the citizenry.
It’s a tough job, and quite often the bottom of all problems begins with fiscal shortfalls. County employees work hard and want wage increases, but taxpayers can’t continue to afford increased taxation. The highway department desperately needs a new shop, but there’s not enough money to build one. Economically challenged residents need the help of human services and public health programs, but the county budget can’t offset state contribution shortfalls.
It’s real, it’s vicious and calls for solid reasoning skills by those who hold office and make budgetary decisions.
I respect those who take up the flag and agree to represent us in any level of government, be it federal, state or local. I don’t always agree with the decision making, but I do acknowledge that there aren’t typically many alternatives to dealing with budget shortfalls. You either have to cut services or increase taxes, neither of which are popular.
I tell you what else isn’t popular, at least in my estimation, a pretty shocking discussion took place at the Feb. 5 Houston County Board meeting about commissioner compensation.
Commissioner Judy Storlie, who just joined the board in January, wanted clarity and change on the policy that deals with per diem stipends.
Houston County Commissioners are currently paid an annual salary of $18,687 per year. That figure has been frozen since 2007. They also receive a $40 stipend for in-county committee meetings; $65 for out-of-county meetings; and $100 for plan commission meetings. Most commissioners attend several committee meetings a month that qualify for the per diem stipend.
Meetings that fall on Tuesdays – when most county board meetings occur – do not qualify for the stipend unless they are out of county.
Storlie said she recently attended an all-day frac sand informational meeting in Winona and felt that she should receive the per diem for that.
But, according to a policy just recently adopted this January, a policy Storlie voted in favor of, this meeting did not qualify for the per diem because “per diems shall be paid to commissioners attending a meeting listed on the current year’s formal list of committee assignments, which is adopted at the first meeting in January of each year (Jan. 8 in 2013) or as amended throughout the year.”
Storlie said she is not looking to get rich going to meetings but said the responsibility to be a well-informed decision maker warrants per diem pay for such a meeting.
I guess I was a bit shocked she brought it up. Not because she doesn’t work hard or because she isn’t committed to educating herself about important issues, but because she was so quick to challenge the rules she agreed to just four weeks prior.
A county commissioner’s work isn’t easy. Outgoing commissioner Tom Bjerke told me he knew it was time for him to step down when the 20-hours-a-week job started to interfere with his ability to watch his daughter play athletics. I try very hard as a mom, wife, newspaper manager and resident to hold back on expressing knee-jerk reactions on any number of topics, but I think this particular issue might make people frown a bit because at $18,687 per year, at an average of 20 hours per week, it’s still $17.96 per hour without any per diems.
You can contact Emily Bialkowski at [email protected]