The Shelby County Commission achieved two milestones Monday. It voted overwhelmingly to establish a city/county consolidation commission — an action that will bathe the members of that body in distinction and honor for time to come. It also took another action that will — or should — submerge them in bathos and embarrassment.
Let's begin (as the commissioners did) with the latter: District 4 member Matt Kuhn had added an amendment to a routine end-of-cycle reauthorization bill that would link any future change in commissioners' pay to a corresponding and proportionate change in the pay of regular county employees. Kuhn further proposed, as a matter of equity, to build in automatic cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increases for both payroll groups.
Inevitably, however, conservatives on the commission resisted the change on the grounds (arguable, to be sure) that whatever claims of simple justice might motivate the change, it was bound to be regarded by a suspicious and suffering local population as something designed to set up a money grab, yet another raid on the taxpayers.
At one point, Republican commissioner George Flinn suggested — rhetorically — that to allay public fears that a pay raise might be afoot, the commission should make some demonstration of share-the-misery solidarity. Like, say cutting its own pay. Fat chance of that, right?
Wrong. As if determined to prove himself and his mates simon-pure, Democrat Kuhn leaped at the chance to demonstrate that nothing so "evil" as a need for filthy lucre motivated his proposed measure. As a means of acquiring half a loaf, anyhow — namely, what seemed to be his pièce de résistance, the establishment of COLA increases for employees and commissioners — Kuhn was willing to forgo $5,000 of his own annual pay allotment of $30,000.
The long and the short of it was that the commission's budget-cutters liked the idea of the cuts, and enough others, like Kuhn, embraced the concept of honorable self-sacrifice. Only the amount of the cut was reduced to $1,500. And to further spread the burden of heroism, the commission would vote proportionate reductions for others.
The county mayor's pay would drop by $5,000. That of the sheriff (the same sheriff who supposedly was but barely holding on to a lower pay rung than any of his peers in Tennessee) by $3,000. And, since the city and county charters called for mutual reciprocation of pay changes, City Council members would have to bite the bullet, too.
Did we mention that the COLA indexing — the initial impetus for all this self-inflicted nobility — got separated out in the shuffle? Even so, Commissioner Joe Ford got so carried away as to call this orgy of hair-shirted self-denial his "greatest day ever." He calculated that all this flamboyant opening of veins would save the county some $200,000 over a period of several years.
Never mind that the same commission on the same day voted without demurrer to turn loose some $600,000 to pay for next month's two special elections. All in a day's work, you know. You get what you pay for.