By Rich Palzewic
BROWN COUNTY – The Brown County board held a special virtual meeting Monday, April 13, to reconsider the salaries of the county clerk, county treasurer and register of deeds.
At its March 18 meeting, the board voted 11-7 to grant no raises and freeze salaries, but District 7 Supervisor Bernie Erickson and District 13 Supervisor Norbert Dantinne Jr. were allowed to reverse their March votes at the Monday meeting, which put the issue back on the table.
After a lengthy debate, the board voted 12-11 in favor of giving a 2-percent yearly increase for 2022, 2023 and 2024.
The current $75,700 yearly salaries for the three elected officials will be frozen for 2021.
After 2021, the salaries will be $77,214, $78,758 and $80,333, respectively.
The new salaries are for four-year terms beginning in January.
The register of deeds is Cheryl Berken, while the treasurer is Paul Zeller.
Clerk Sandra Juno is not seeking another term, but county board chair Patrick Moynihan Jr., the current village-treasurer clerk in Ashwaubenon, has announced he will be seeking her seat.
“I’m not in favor of any raises,” said District 9 Supervisor Patrick Evans, who initially made a motion to have salaries raised $1 for each of the four years. “How do we go back to our constituents when we currently have 27 percent unemployment in the state of Wisconsin and say, ‘Now we feel is a good time to give a pay raise to three politicians?’ Doing this when we have all these COVID-19 issues and we haven’t had a special meeting to address that, but we are having a special meeting to give three politicians a nice, big raise stinks.”
After a motion to give 2-percent yearly increases for the next four years died, the proposal to freeze salaries for 2021 but give 2-percent yearly raises for 2022, 2023 and 2024 was brought to the table.
Proponents of the increases said the board needs to look beyond the current situation.
“I understand there’s concern about what’s going on now, however, this is a situation we should be out of in a short time,” said District 11 Supervisor Patrick Buckley. “Let’s take a look at the big picture and not just focus on a couple of months here.”
District 20 Supervisor Steve Deslauriers didn’t support any raises.
“I don’t want to increase the divide between the rank-and-file employees and executive management,” he said. “Two percent of $75,000 is much greater than 2 percent of $25,000. What are we trying to fix here? We have plenty of qualified candidates for these positions, and the market is telling us we are paying appropriately. Have we ever had a problem getting qualified candidates?”
Deslauriers also said he wasn’t sure why the county board was even discussing increases during this pandemic.
“I think it’s irresponsible at this time, and I’ll take pride in voting for zero increases,” he said. “Why are we giving taxpayer dollars to a need that doesn’t exist when there are so many other needs that do exist?”
The initial vote was 11-10 in favor of passing the motion, but after District 3 Supervisor Andy Nicholson reconnected to the meeting and voted “nay,” there was an 11-11 tie, which would have defeated the proposal.
Discussion then began again on a new motion, but District 12 Supervisor Dave Landwehr, who was also having technical difficulties, was allowed to vote after listening to the entire meeting on the phone.
With Landwehr’s “aye” vote, the proposal passed 12-11.
“Due to this being our first meeting virtually and the issues we had, we have to be flexible,” said Vice Chair Thomas Lund, who was the acting chair because Moynihan Jr. was not present due to election responsibilities. “We are in the middle of COVID-19 and were all in different locations.”
Besides Moynihan Jr., two other supervisors were excused from the meeting.
Evans said the current three elected officials had emailed supervisors last week asking for salaries to be increased.
“I was very unhappy receiving emails from them talking about this position,” he said. “The motivation was clear behind what they were trying to get from us. I think I’m going to file a formal ethics complaint and a campaign finance violation. Mr. Zeller was there using his county email address, which is a violation of campaign laws – using county equipment to lobby in political activity. They used the prestige and power of their public office to influence and get this pay raise. I’m extremely disappointed about this.”