Salary lists show citizens where money is going

CNJ editorial

T he five-page salary report in today’s paper
unveils no huge treasure chest of new informa-
tion. It mostly illuminates the usual. However, the findings also tell us that women in many local leadership roles ranked among the top 50 public wage-earners — about half — from the five public institutions we reviewed for 2003.
And we get a glimpse at who earns what extra perks, how some feel about their pay in relation to their duties, and how a few people earn more than their bosses.
The public records reviewed the last six months were from Clovis Community College, Clovis public schools, the city of Clovis, Curry County, and state workers in the county.
Most entities willingly worked with the Clovis News Journal to collect and turn over the requested data. Several officials were spurred by the requests to educate themselves about New Mexico’s open records laws, particularly the city, the public schools and CCC. Some became more proactive on open-meetings issues as well.
In the end, even Curry County produced the pay information, though we first had to file a lawsuit. The county contends otherwise. The saga is moving ahead to a November court date and a possible trial in January.
As for what is printed today, if most of it is everyday stuff, why should anyone want to see it? Some are sure to argue it wasn’t worth a whit of their time. We argue the opposite, that government responds best when officials know the watchdogs, the press and the public, are performing due diligence regularly.
Without that, taxpayers can’t know whether oft-heard claims by public employees of low pay and/or benefits have much merit. Once numbers are seen in a larger context, taxpayers can urge — or push — their leaders to act appropriately on local pay matters.
In this instance, few should be surprised that Clovis public schools and Clovis Community College have the most highly paid people. Nor should they be startled to learn that the top two wage earners, three of the top five and four of the top 10 are women who all hail from CCC. For decades, education almost always leads the way in public pay and, more recently, in public pay for women.
On the other end, male and female county workers, as they do here, most often trail. That statistic isn’t just because of jail cost overruns of late; it has been a truth for far more years than the last few. Some equate it to tightwad county commissioners; others applaud them for restricting spending seen as unnecessary just a few years ago.
As well, the fact that Clovis Community College President Beverlee McClure, the top-paid public official in Curry County, and City Manager Ray Mondragon (number 3) drive publicly owned vehicles isn’t uncommon. Yes, Mondragon drives private property taken away from a citizen who broke drug laws, but government confiscation of private goods, for any reason, is a topic for another day.
Also not unusual are the reimbursements they must pay for personal use of said vehicles.
What is most puzzling about the perks data we gathered deals with McClure’s add-on pay package. It isn’t because of anything she has done, necessarily, but what the college board hasn’t required. Included in her 2003 salary, McClure was given $12,500 in what officials call “supplemental salary.”
That figure has since increased to $22,500 — a decent wage in itself for many Clovis residents.
The supplemental salary’s intent is to help offset her heavy business travel costs, but the board doesn’t require any accounting of how the president spent those taxpayer dollars.
Why would any public body grant any of their public workers the right to spend that money without fully accounting for how it was used?
When will the CCC board correct that flaw in accountability? We hope at the next board meeting.
All it takes is questionable spending one time to undermine public support for any community institution, public or private. Just ask Enron shareholders what they think of their board of directors.
Overall, these salary lists remind everyone that a large portion of tax dollars are spent on local salaries as well as at state and national levels. You will note that last year just the top five public earners in Curry County earned more than a half-million dollars.
And 133 of the city, county, state, public school and community college workers each earned more than $50,000 in 2003. In any public or private sector work in eastern New Mexico and west Texas, those are good-paying jobs.