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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County salary mix-up sparks hard feelings

A Kootenai County public defender was suspended for a week without pay Tuesday for giving the county commission a greeting card – along with a jar of Vaseline and tube of red lipstick – ridiculing a mistake in calculating her pay increase.

“The next time you choose to give us something please lubricate and/or kiss first,” attorney Linda Payne wrote in the Hallmark card June 9. “Vaseline and red lipstick are enclosed. (Please excuse the small amounts. I don’t make that much to give you how much you need or deserve.)”

Commission Chairman Gus Johnson called Payne’s action “unprofessional.” Payne didn’t return phone calls Tuesday.

Payne personally delivered the message to the commissioners’ office after attorneys in the public defender’s and prosecutor’s offices received inaccurate notices June 7 outlining each employee’s pay increase.

Human Resources Director Cherie Bates said that the letters inadvertently showed county attorneys getting 55 percent more money than the raises that were actually approved by the county commission. That meant that some county attorneys were expecting an additional $5,000.

Bates said the mistake was noticed that evening and attorneys were issued new letters the next day showing the correct salary information.

“It was a simple mistake in calculation,” Bates said, adding that the wrong column in one of the spreadsheets was used to calculate the attorneys’ salaries. “I couldn’t be more sorry that happened.”

In her greeting card to the commission, Payne wrote, “The raise you gave us and cut in half is simply another example of crud you thrust upon the criminal attorneys for the county. To give us a raise and then take it away the next day is yet another example of your disrespect for loyal county employees.”

The note went on to state that the commission had called the prosecutor and public defender a profanity and claimed that “monkeys could do our jobs.”

Johnson said that as far as he knows, no one on the commission said such things.

“It took us all by surprise,” Johnson said.

Commissioner Rick Currie agreed, saying, “It’s real disappointing.”

After receiving Payne’s card the commission asked Public Defender John Adams, Payne’s direct supervisor, to handle the personnel issue. Adams wasn’t available for comment. Johnson called the one-week suspension adequate.

More than 300 Kootenai County employees recently got salary adjustments that will put their pay in line with compensation in Northwest counties and businesses of similar sizes.

The county commission isn’t yet releasing the specifics of a $60,000 independent study that helped the board determine which salaries were adjusted and by how much. Bates said the commission should make public that information Friday when employees get their first paychecks showing the adjustments.

Bates said the county also will release the final cost of the salary adjustments.

The commission last month unanimously voted on recommendations made by the California-based HayGroup that reviewed salary and benefit levels of all 680 county employees.

Pay for elected officials also was part of the study. The commission appointed a citizens committee Tuesday that will recommend pay for the three commissioners, sheriff, clerk, treasurer, assessor, prosecutor and coroner.

The committee has until July 15 to make that recommendation. The commission retains the final say.

The citizens committee’s first meeting is today at 9 a.m. in the Kootenai County Administration Building.