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Remembering Public Service Comes with Sacrifice

One of the most common phrases heard on the campaign trail is, “you should run for office!”

Most recently this was told to Republican Executive Committee Chairman Mike Moberley after he expertly moderated a debate among district 4 county commission candidates that went heavy into the issues.

One of our volunteers on the Tod Cloud for State House campaign also suggested it to Realtor extraordinaire Elias George Kirallah after a spirited but informed debate over the turnpike extension.

And yes, it has even been directed at me with some particularly conspiratorially-minded individuals thinking that the Concurrent is a set-up for an eventual run though I can assure you that is not the case. Rachel levied some serious outcomes of what would happen should the idea ever get into my mind and that was before she was pregnant. Now that we’re in the third trimester, I am fully confident she would follow through.

Jokes aside, a serious reality of public service is that it is in most cases a substantial financial regression for some officials and in all cases it is a reduction in the quality of life.

Let’s critically examine the first claim about it hurting the officials’ finances. Most people think county commission is a roughly $67,000 per year part-time job. You can approach the position in such a way that makes that a true statement.

But what most people point to as evidence that it is only part-time - that some commissioners retain their careers prior to being elected in concurrence with the commission service - is a poor benchmark of validating their point. If the qualification for a full-time job is 40 hours per week, then it’s true commissioners may not put that in each week, but on the average of a year it is likely close when travel and some especially busy weeks are considered.

Another even harder aspect for some to understand is going to come off as elitist but so be it. A commissioner with the initiative and discipline to do the time intensive parts of the job such as reading and answering the constituents has skills that likely translate to a private sector career in which the hourly rate is much higher than that of what the commission offers.

For example, if a commissioner works just 10 hours a week for 50 of the 52 weeks then the $67,000ish salary translates to $137 per hour. This rate at 40 hours a week for the same 50 weeks is $268,000.

This is a substantial salary but it is also much less than what some elected officials either do or could make in the private sector. That means each hour given to public business is an hour removed from a job where they could be making more. In economics this is called opportunity cost.

It’s hard to make an argument in which the premise is to feel bad for the person making over a quarter of a million dollars. I get that. So let’s turn instead to the second point about the reduction in quality of life.

This one is indisputable. I’ve talked to current and former commissioners who have had to install security cameras at the advice of others who had previously served, had animals poisoned, received death threats, had vehicles set on fire under suspicious circumstances and even had a family dog decapitated and dropped on their doorstep.

It’s easy to try to refute this - to say it’s tall tales from a select few or that it’s unrelated to their service on the commission - except this is denying the truth.

It’s repeated and similar stories from many different commissioners from several different years and the violence only started once the people joined the commission.

The quality of life got so bad that one of our commissioners had to move to Georgia. Okay, that part is a joke, but after mentioning such horrifying incidents it felt appropriate.

What is not a joke is the tremendous adversity that the commission faces going into Tuesday’s meeting. Yesterday’s bonus column outlined my disagreement with Chairman Ron Kitchen and Commissioner Scott Carnahan’s initial positions as well as what I hope is the outcome for the other three commissioners.

Commissioners are sometimes (many times) the recipients of harsh words, and part of that is included in the job description. However, they are also people who are making at least one sacrifice and potentially multiple. This should always be respected and remembered. Good luck this Tuesday.


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