Otis Sanford: Public input, debate needed before salary increases

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The best way for local elected officials to start a contentious public debate is to talk about pay raises for those same elected leaders, and the Shelby County Commission is doing just that.

On Monday, the group began the process of jacking up the part-time commission salaries to $32,100 a year — a $3,000 increase. But that was just the beginning. If the plan is approved on two more readings, a host of county officials would get generous pay raises starting in September 2018. They include the mayor who would see a boost of nearly $30,000 and the sheriff, who would get almost $40,000 more.

What`s more, because Memphis voters approved a referendum in 1996, the City Council also gets a raise whenever the Shelby County Commission increases its salary.

None of this is to say that these raises should be automatically voted down, but it is to say that a vigorous debate should take place before the final vote. The good thing for tax payers is that nine of the 13 Shelby County Commissioners must vote yes for the pay raises to pass. Four of them voted no on Monday.

Supporters insist they are merely trying to make county salaries competitive with other comparable local governments in the region, but more information is needed and public input will be essential.

Let the debate begin.