Large pay raises in Lee County irk some

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Two Lee County department heads got large pay raises Friday over the objection of some supervisors who argued they had done nothing to earn it.
One of the employees is Julia Viator, hired in April at $38,000 to turn around the failing Lee County Agri-Center. Although the center continues to lose money, the board voted 3-2 to boost Viator’s salary to $45,000.
The other is Lee County Solid Waste Director Terry McGlaun, who was hired in January 2008. By a similar 3-2 vote, the board increased McGlaun’s pay to $47,000.
Voting for the raises were board President Darrell Rankin, District 2 Supervisor Bobby Smith and District 4 Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy.
No explanation of the raises was offered during the board meeting, nor did any of the county’s eight other non-elected department heads get one. All county employees, however, will receive a 2.1 percent across-the-board salary increase this coming fiscal year to offset a rate increase in their retirement contributions.
The fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
The board can set only non-elected employees’ salaries; elected officials have their pay established by legislative action.
District 1 Supervisor Phil Morgan and District 5 Supervisor Joe McKinney voted against the two pay raises.
“There’s two reasons why I respectfully opposed it,” McKinney said. “They haven’t been there very long, and right now we’re struggling with our money. It’s just not a proper time to be in county government, I tell you. It’s nothing against the employees.”
Morgan echoed those comments and further noted that the agri-center has lost twice as much money in the five months since Viator’s hire than in the five months prior: Between April and August, the facility posted a total $88,217 deficit, versus the $39,502 cumulative loss it had reported between November and March, according to county records.
“I just don’t see how I can explain giving her a raise to the other employees,” Morgan said. “It’s just not right.”
Viator’s new salary more closely matches those of her predecessors when they were hired – Clint Young earned $55,000 when he started in January 2006; Stephen Johnson got $40,000 in July 2000.
But Lee County Administrator Sean Thompson said it’s inaccurate to compare Viator’s salary to those of her predecessors.
“The Agri-Center is a different job now than it was under previous directors,” he said. “It’s like comparing apples to pecans. It’s not even oranges.”
Viator is on vacation this week and was not available for comment.
According to Thompson, Viator approached him last month requesting a pay raise. Thompson said he directed her to the Board of Supervisors.
“Those are board decisions,” he said. “They set those salaries. We serve at the will and pleasure of the board. If they want to pick one person and give them a $100,000 raise, they can. They can also pass someone over for a raise for 20 years.”
When supervisors sought Thompson’s advice on Viator’s request, he said he told them it was their decision but also asked them to consider McGlaun for a similar boost.
“There has been a lot of discussion about how good a job he’s been doing,” Thompson said, explaining why he singled out McGlaun.
When contacted by the Daily Journal on Friday, McGlaun confirmed he did not seek the raise but said he was happy to get it.
“I really appreciate the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “We’ve got a good board.”
Supervisors went into a closed-door discussion immediately after the public meeting, and the three who voted for the raises could not be reached for comment later in the day.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.