Clay County commission to discuss adding proposals for salary increase, ending term limits to ballot

Zoey Fields

Clay County voters may have the option to vote on a proposed pay increase for county commissioners and end term limits for all elected constitutional county officeholders.

The county’s Charter Review Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday to continue discussing these issues and, potentially, vote on the matter. The meeting is open to the public and will be held on the fourth floor of the administration building at 477 Houston St., Green Cove Springs.

The commission debated the items and wording during their March 15 meeting. Adding these items on the ballot will give voters the opportunity to vote in November on a “cost of living” increase for commissioners, and whether term limits should end for some county officeholders.

The commissioners currently get $37,000 per year in salary. The salary would be increased annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

At the start of the meeting, two men from the audience criticized the proposals during the public comment period.

“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so,” said Richard Klinzman of Middleburg who quoted author Douglas Adams.

He continued, stating that these issues and “solutions” have been tried before and failed.

“Things are only getting worse,” he said. “You think you are going to raise commissioners’ salary to get a better-quality commissioner, but nothing happens over and over again because they are backed in their campaigns by developers.”

The specifics of the pay increase issue sparked a lot of discussion. Commissioner Chris Russell said no voter reads past the first 19 words on a ballot issue — emphasizing a need to reword the proposal in a way that makes it clear this is not a salary increase, but rather, additional funds provided to commissioners toward the cost of living.

Commissioner David Theus argued that it is “dangerous on our part to assume” the voter cannot and does not read the full ballot. Russell responded, stating that wording on the ballot must be comprehensible for the 18-year-old first-time voters and the 80-year-old senior.

“The [commissioner] salary is not going to change over this,” Commissioner Debby Terry said. “Now academically, it does change the cost of living. They are getting cost of living. I just think some people have their preconceived ideas when they go to that ballot box and they are only going to read the first 19 words … I don’t want to lead them in any one direction.”

The cost-of-living addition to commissioners’ pay would vary each year, depending on the Consumer Price Index. Some years, the salary could remain the same.

In the term limit proposal, the offices of sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector, clerk of the circuit court, and supervisor of elections would be affected.

Under the current term limits, the officeholders serve terms of four years. No person elected for three consecutive full terms in the same constitutional office can run again for that office. Officeholders must take a four-year break before getting re-elected for a new term.

Discussion, and a potential vote on the matter, are set to continue Tuesday during the charter review commission’s next meeting. See full agenda here.
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