December 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Commissioner Changes Stand On Sheriff’s Pay With Democrat Goldman Not Running Again, Harris Has Second Thoughts About Salary Cut

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Less than two years after proposing a 22 percent pay cut for the sheriff, Spokane County Commissioner Phil Harris now says he opposes an 8 percent cut as unfair.

About the only thing that’s changed is that Sheriff John Goldman has announced he won’t run for re-election. Mark Sterk, a Spokane police sergeant and Republican state legislator, is the odds-on favorite to replace Goldman.

“Regrettably, this tends to confirm the political overtones of county government,” said Goldman, a Democrat, who accused Republican Harris of playing partisan politics during the salary talks last year.

Now, Harris wants to leave the sheriff’s salary untouched at $90,344. This afternoon, commissioners will consider lowering it to $82,000.

“It’s not a political thing with me,” Harris said Monday, while admitting his stand this year contradicts last year’s.

“I got voted out on that one, so maybe I’m being obnoxious.”

Although he argued vigorously against the pay cut during a staff meeting last week, Harris said he may change his mind again before today’s vote.

Commissioners John Roskelley and Kate McCaslin have indicated support for the cut.

Neither Harris’ proposal last year nor the one this year would take effect until Jan. 1, 1999, the day after Goldman’s term expires. State law prohibits counties from cutting the pay of elected officials during a current term.

The normally unflappable Goldman was furious in April 1996 when Harris urged his colleagues to cut the sheriff’s salary to $70,000 a year.

“This is nothing more than a coercive and deliberate attempt to keep me from running again,” Goldman said during a meeting with commissioners.

Harris insisted it was nothing personal. The salary needed adjusting, he said, because Spokane County paid its sheriff more than most in the state, including some from larger counties.

“You’re not being picked on, my friend,” Harris told Goldman at the time.

Instead of the cut, commissioners froze Goldman’s pay for the rest of his term and called for studies of sheriffs’ salaries across the state.

Those studies by the county’s human resources department show that while Goldman earns more than most sheriffs, he also oversees a bigger budget and more employees. Based on those factors, the human resources department recommended a salary no lower than $82,000, nearly $3,000 less than is earned by Goldman’s two undersheriffs.

During an interview Monday, Harris said he fears that lowering the salary will discourage qualified potential candidates from entering the sheriff’s race.

That’s one of the same arguments Goldman cited to Harris last year. Harris’ response at the time: Running for office is a calling that should transcend wages.

Harris said the wage freeze is adequate, since sheriffs’ salaries in other counties are catching up with the wages paid in Spokane, a conclusion that isn’t supported by the salary study.

“If John Goldman were running again, I’d still say let’s not cut it because it’s going to fix itself about a year from now,” given typical wage increases in the other counties, said Harris.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

Graphic: Sheriffs’ salaries and duties

MEMO: Spokane County commissioners will decide during their 2 p.m. meeting today whether to cut the sheriff’s salary starting Jan. 1, 1999. The meeting is in the county’s public works building, 1026 W. Broadway.

Spokane County commissioners will decide during their 2 p.m. meeting today whether to cut the sheriff’s salary starting Jan. 1, 1999. The meeting is in the county’s public works building, 1026 W. Broadway.


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