Tempers flare over question of raise for county manager

Robin Fornoff

Confusion over whether County Manager Lance Pyle was included in a recent 2 percent cost of living raise granted all county employees had tempers flaring Tuesday among Curry County commissioners.

The question was raised by Commissioner Dan Stoddard regarding a Dec. 20 vote to grant the raise to all employees. Stoddard said it wasn’t clear if Pyle was included in that raise, noting that Pyle’s contract with the county specifically excludes his being included in any cost of living adjustment or COLA granted other county employees.

Stoddard also noted that when the commission granted Pyle’s $102,000 annual salary contract in 2010, it added another $5,000 to it to enable Pyle to pay for his education toward earning a master’s degree.

“I do consider that ($5,000) a pay raise,” said Stoddard, adding that grant COLA raises to the county manager every time one is given to other employees put the county on a path where “we’ll soon have a county manager getting paid $200,000 a year in a state where the governor makes $100,000.”

Stoddard’s comments brought immediate response from a visibly upset Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, who said Pyle acting as the county’s Indigent Fund manager saves the county at least $50,000 a year.

Sandoval also said the issue had already been voted on Dec. 20 and it was clear the COLA raise was granted to Pyle. He also noted the county has a policy that forbids reconsidering any vote already taken.

“So why are going on and on about this,” said Sandoval. “This is done.”

But newly elected Chairman Wendell Bostwick said he wasn’t sure the motion approving the COLA raise included Pyle, a sentiment echoed by former chairman Caleb Chandler.

“I don’t think it really was clear,” said Chandler.

“I think Mr. (Frank) Blackburn’s motion was very, very clear,” countered Sandoval.

Blackburn said he believed his motion was clear, that when asked by Stoddard in December if the motion to give raises to all employees included Pyle, Blackburn had said yes.

Sighing deeply, Bostwick said, “I try to appease. I try to look for solutions.”

Bostwick then noted Pyle will come up for evaluation in March and suggested the question could be resolved then. Pyle appeared to concur.

“Mr. Chairman,” said Sandoval, “that to me is a joke. It’s done. It’s history. This is getting where it’s ridiculous.”

Chandler noted that at least three of the five-member commission had stated they were confused, then offered a new motion that the 2 percent raise granted in December didn’t include Pyle. It was seconded by Stoddard.

“Now I don’t understand this,” said Blackburn. “Somebody doesn’t want him to have that raise.

“A majority here doesn’t understand. Now I don’t understand,” said Blackburn.

Bostwick started to make a statement but was cut off by Blackburn, who shouted, “Vote. Vote.”

The motion failed with Chandler and Stoddard voting yes; Bostwick voting no along with Sandoval and Blackburn.