Siler wants pay of county lawyers raised

Jun. 11, 2014 @ 07:02 PM

County Attorney Lowell Siler is pushing a roughly $213,000 plan to put the lawyers who work for him on equal footing, pay-wise, with their counterparts in city government.

Siler briefed County Commissioners on the proposal this week, explaining he wants to emulate the city’s practice of promoting lawyers to the status of “senior assistant” after they’ve been on the payroll for seven to nine years.

“As long as I’ve been in that office, our salary has always been behind our brothers and sisters in the city attorney’s office,” Siler said during his briefing. “And I never really could understand that. The skill set is no different. And in many years, we work hand-in-hand with the city attorney’s office on the same projects.”

He added that he believes at least four of his assistant merits a big raise, and that the full plan would address the salaries of seven. The raises would be on the order of $20,000 each, plus benefits.

County Manager Wendell Davis has endorsed the proposal, including it in his fiscal 2014-15 budget request.

Commissioners were noncommittal, though Commissioner Wendy Jacobs noted the county is in the midst of a full-workforce adjustment of salaries to react to changing market conditions.

“How do we then explain to every other department that, yes, we did an organizational study, and then we’re going to treat the legal department differently and do another compensation system for them?” she asked.

But commissioners Chairman Michael Page seemed inclined to go along.

“It’s not far off from here to the city,” he said, alluding to the couple-blocks walk from the county offices to City Hall. “I hope we would be able to say, ‘You’re not any different from the city here at the county,’ and treat them fairly.”

Siler’s office has a staff of 17 people and operates on a budget of $1.8 million. He and Davis propose raising that to $2.2 million in fiscal 2014-15.

The increase covers not just what Siler terms the “restructuring and reclassification” plan, but the hiring of an additional lawyer to work with the Department of Social Services on child-support cases.

The request for child-support cases has the support of DSS Director Michael Becketts and appears non-controversial.

Siler receives a salary of $178,404 and his chief deputy, Cathy Moore, receives $119,105. The annual salaries of the seven assistant county attorneys range from $75,324 to $97,930.

Over at City Hall, City Attorney Patrick Baker’s office has 11 full-time employees and a lawyer who works part-time. It operates on a $1.6 million budget. Baker has asked for an additional $26,440 in fiscal 2014-15, basically an inflation-covering budget increase.

Baker, a former Durham city manager, is paid $186,348 by the City Council. The other seven lawyers who work full-time in his office are all senior assistants and receive anywhere from $103,514 to $120,721.

Siler’s briefing for the commissioners on Wednesday came about two weeks after Baker presented his funding request to the City Council.

Ironically, Baker made a point during his comments of noting how little turnover there’s been in the city attorney’s office since he joined it as an assistant attorney in 1997.

Since then, “I don’t know that anyone has actually left the office except through a retirement,” Baker said, ignoring his own transfer to the city manager’s office in 2004. “We had one individual pass away in 1998 or 1999. We’ve been able to keep people on board until they retire.”

Council members were satisfied with the lack of turnover, Councilman Steve Schewel calling that and a similar track record in the city clerk’s office a “tribute to management and morale.”

Both governments are considering property tax increases in fiscal 2014-15. City officials are likely to choose among options requiring an increase of 1.79 to 2.37 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Davis, meanwhile, asked the commissioners for an increase in the countywide tax rate of 2.73 cents per $100 of assessed value.