County officials who handed themselves a major pay hike recently may have to give the money back if State Senator Kevin Easley gets his way. The Wagoner County legislator is preparing legislation which would rescind the pay raise authority granted to county officials this year, in addition to rolling back any salary increases.
"I think some of our county officers got a little greedy and went overboard on this thing. Tulsa County is a perfect example. They handed themselves the biggest possible pay raise they could without even so much as a second thought about the taxpayers. People are outraged and they should be," said Senator Easley.
County officials in Tulsa County voted themselves a $20,000 pay hike last month, making them the highest-paid county officials in Oklahoma. Published reports also indicate the 30 percent salary hike put their pay well above the national average when compared to their peers around the country.
A new law authorized pay increases of up to $20,000, but Senator Easley said the action in Tulsa County bordered on abuse and made a strong case for repeal of the statute.
With that in mind, the legislator is drafting a bill which would repeal the pay hike law and salary increases. The measure would only apply to counties with populations of 250,000 or greater, or in effect, Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties.
Easley said he is targeting the two urban counties because rural counties already have a citizen "check and balance" in place: an independent county excise board which must approve such pay actions.
"I think most county officials, especially the ones in rural areas, have handled this issue responsibly. They shouldn't be punished just because a handful of folks in Tulsa went overboard and tried to make themselves the highest-paid county officers in the state," said Senator Easley.
After she voted for the pay hike, Tulsa County Assessor Cheryl Clay had indicated that the peoples' only option in the salary increase debate was to "call their state legislator." Senator Easley noted that taxpayers were complying with her request, adding that his phone was "ringing off the hook" with angry calls.
"People are mad, not just about the pay hike, but about this "let them eat cake" attitude of some county officials. Basically, what they've told me is they feel like this thing was crammed down their throat and the only response they've gotten from office holders is "shut up and like it. That's not only incredibly arrogant; it's extremely unfair," said Senator Easley.
The lawmaker said he wants to put his pay raise legislation on the fast track as soon as the next legislative session begins in February.
"To me, this issue is a critical one that needs to be addressed immediately. That's what I'll be pushing for," said Senator Easley.
When the Legislature and Governor Keating approved the county pay raise legislation this year, Easley said it was his understanding that the measure was aimed at small, rural counties where in many cases, county officers were making less than $20,000. He said he never dreamed the better-paid officials in the larger counties would "abuse the privilege" to the extent they have.
"The idea was to give them the opportunity to keep up with the rising cost of living, not to give them carte blanche to catapult themselves into another income bracket. What happened in Tulsa just doesn't pass the smell test and I'm not going to let it stand," said Senator Easley.