Chat about the Douglas County Commission's new raise with Commissioner Bob Johnson

December 20, 2006

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Bob Johnson

Douglas County commissioners on Monday gave themselves and other elected officials pay raises amounting to several thousand dollars per individual. They say the move is to bring salaries in line with other Kansas counties of comparable size. Commissioners will see their annual pay increase by more than 50 percent - from $21,507 to $32,552. Commissioner Bob Johnson will take your questions about this and other county issues.


Hi. This is Cody Howard. I will be moderating today's chat with Douglas County Commission Chairman Bob Johnson. We will be starting in moments.


Our thanks to Bob Johson for joining us today. Let's begin.


We have several questions about the raises for elected Douglas County officials approved on Monday.


I don't have an opinion about the need for a raise for county commissioners, but as a general rule, I believe than no civil servant should be eligible for a raise he or she voted on, until after the next election. What are your thoughts on that idea?

Bob Johnson:

I understand your point, but don't believe this is how it generally works. In some ways it would have been easier for me not to make the increase effective immediately, but if my goal was to be entirely self serving, then I would have been trying to get this done as long as six years ago! It seemed to us that the time was right in that all three of us agreed now is right and we wanted to be absolutely straight up and not duck any of the questions or criticism that would go along with our decision.


Please recap how the commission came to the decision of the timing and percentage of increases.

Bob Johnson:

This all began several months ago when we asked Craig to study the marketplac with respect to the salaries of our elected officials in Douglas County. We wanted to be sure that they were being fairly and adequately compensated. Also, we are blessed with very good officials who are doing a great job. Then it became a question of what is fair and proper for the County Commissioners. We looked at what is happening in our fellow Counties and what has been the history of Douglas County Commissioner salaries.

We landed upon the average of the five largest counties not including Johnson, Sedgwick and Douglas. If I remember, that number is approx. 35,000. When you look at the Douglas County Commissioner salary in 1988 and move it forward the 2006 dollars, that number is about 34,000. We simply decided that we wanted to be below the average and agreed upon the number of 32,000. So, in 2007, our salaries will be below the average for 2006.

Next, we felt it important to institutionalize the process and assigned the Commissioner salary to a pay code, same as our elected officials, except the Sheriff, for obvious reasons. So, going forward, the pay will be based upon the hourly starting wage for this pay grade and will not increase except as the minimun number changes. Also, this is based in part upon the belief that Commissioners should be considered a half time job, not full time!


Why were only 5 counties surveyed out of 105 Kansas counties? Will the details of this survey be made public? Does the County intend to run a salary survey for non-elected staff?

Bob Johnson:

Certainly, any information we have will be made public. Just call the office 832-5328.

County Administrator,Craig Weinaug was asked to not consider Johnson and Sedgwick because of their size, and I think he did not consider Wyandotte because it is a unified gov't.


Why wasn't a raise this large phased in over time? Seems to me, that would have been a better way to maintain some semblance of a budget.

Bob Johnson:

If it was to be phased it should start at the beginning of a term. Since Jere McElhaney and I are in the middle of our second term, there would be a disparity between the salary of two of us and Charles Jones did not think this a good idea. We felt any change in Commissioner salary should be a unanimous decision.


How many hours a week does a commissioner work? I realize that most of these individuals have other full time careers, so what is really expected out of them as far as hours? Thank you.

Bob Johnson:

Good question. I don't think anyone prescribes the exact number that a Commissioner should work. We just need to spend the time needed to be informed and make decisions that are in the best interest of the County. What ever it takes and, of course, it varies from week to week and issue to issue. On average, I spend between 20 and 30 hours per week. The two meeting per week are just the tip of the iceberg. It is difficult for a person with a full time job to be able to make this time committment.


How can you possibly justify a $16,000 per year raise for the Sheriff? Though a very nice man, he has no college degree and has 2 Undersheriffs unlike any other county in the state of Kansas. There is no way he does more on a day to day basis than the Sheriff of Shawnee County who gets paid less and has a higher population to serve.


We have time today for a couple more questions.

Bob Johnson:

I don't think the Sheriff will be overpaid going forward. When the sheriff was elected two years ago, he started at the bottom of the pay grade and after some discussions, the Commission agreed to re-evaluate his pay after two years on the job. We are keeping our word and the past two years have demonstrated that the Sheriff and his people are doing a terrific job.


Why not make the raise effective 2008? After all the pay level has not forced any of you to consider resignation and you knew the pay level when you threw your hat in the ring.

Put it on the April 2007 Ballot? See if your employers are happy with your perfromance.

Bob Johnson:

One of the beauties of the election process is if the public is not satisfied with the way the job is being done, the officeholder will be returned to the public.


Mr. Johnson, since the job of commissioner is a part time job and one that you voluntary accepted and therefore do not rely on as primary income, would you and your fellow commissioners consider donating your windfall salary raise to local charities in the spirit of giving back to the community that you serve in this time of giving and need?

Bob Johnson:

First, I don't think anyone should assume that we are not already giving back to our Community in lot's of ways, including money. While it may be fair to say that we are able to live without a pay increase, it begs the question of what should the compensation be. Also, perhaps this will be a step in the right direction to encourage some other very able person to seek office, who might not otherwise be able to afford the risk of being elected.


That's all the time we have today. Our thanks to Douglas County Commission Chairman Bob Johnson for joining us today.


hipper_than_hip 11 years, 5 months ago

They can give themselves raises based on salary surveys, but when salary surveys for other jobs within the county indicate that a pay raise is needed to bring salaries inline with other counties, the raises are denied.

Godot 11 years, 5 months ago

" It is difficult for a person with a full time job to be able to make this time committment. "

One wonders how Commissioner Jones is able to juggle this part time job and his full time, salaried, professional position of great responsibility at the University of Kansas.

zimmerman 11 years, 5 months ago

I've been thinking about the fact that the County Commission used other counties salaries to base their decision to give themselves a raise. But if you think about it, Lawrence citizens seem to have lower wages than other cities in Kansas. I'm not sure if that goes for the other cities in Douglas County but I'd guess that it probably does. Maybe the commissioners salary gap should reflect the salary gap of Douglas County with the rest of the state. If as citizens we are generally making less than the rest of the state, then maybe our commissioners should be too. Just an idea, maybe I'm wrong, but it's something to think about.

Baille 11 years, 5 months ago

"I understand your point, but don't believe this is how it generally works."

Who cares? I don't care how it is. I care how it ought to be.

"Co'mon, Mom! All the other kids are doing it..."


Linda Aikins 11 years, 5 months ago

This seemed like it ended rather quickly. Thanks harley for jumping in.

Centrist 11 years, 5 months ago

32k a year for 20-30 hours a week??

Not bad!!

Julie Jacob 11 years, 5 months ago

Certainly didn't bother to answer my question. "Does the County intend to run a salary survey for non-elected staff? "

Godot 11 years, 5 months ago

There is a big opportunity for a write-in candidate this April.

DouglasCountyresident 11 years, 5 months ago

First off it isn't fair to compare the other counties to Douglas County. I know that the other Sheriff Departments do not have the control of the many departments as does the Douglas County. This Sheriffs department has been under paid since I have lived in Douglas County for 30 years. If you work nights weekends and some times 12 hour shifts and then are in court the next day when your suppose to be in bed that is above and beyond. Ask any of these officers with families what they missed of there children growing up and how many are now not married due to the job hours. I don't care if the Sheriff has a degree or not. I think he has proven his ablity to do his job after 25 years. I know for a fact if that there is not one employee that works for him that does not respect him and approve of this pay raise.

Check out the other counties and find out what ours is doing that the others are not. You only hear the negitive things not the good ones. Please if you think you can do a better job than the elected people do it on the lower salaries and don't complain. I'm sure it cost a pretty penny just to run for election and to register.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 11 years, 5 months ago

What a bunch of sorry bottom feeders. This is just another rather obvious and expensive lesson for the need to vote for commissioners at large, rather than by districts. Even that, however, would not prevent a travesty such as this when they all get together at Christmas and screw all of the taxpayers in the county at once. There is nothing he said that even remotely convinced me that any of them needed any kind of raise. This should have been put to a public vote, given the high amount of money involved. In fact I think any raises involving department heads, or elected officials should be put to a public vote. It is painfully obvious we cannot trust these people to vote themselves raises. Thank you, Lynn

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 11 years, 5 months ago

P.S. If anyone reads this bunch of B.S. and believes any of it, they are stupid.

Jay_Bird 11 years, 5 months ago

I still feel that as a magnanimous gesture all 3 commissioners should donate their windfall salaries for the remainder of their terms to local charities. All 3 have very good full time jobs as well as other sources of income and live in very nice houses. It is only right that the give back more than they take. And Mr. Johnson you did not answer a single question in a straight forward manner. Has anyone ever seen Mr. Johnson volunteer his time in the community to help others?

cynic 11 years, 5 months ago

Have any of you ever been to a commission meeting? He says that they have a lot of preparation and things they do outside of their meetings. I've been here a few years and gone to a couple of these meetings. It's amazing how one commissioner in particular says more often than he should..."I haven't had time to read through all the material, but I've looked over it." meanwhile, the other two commissioners continue to carry him. pay raise indeed.

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