Emeritus Planning Board member keeps pay, for now

Henderson City Council member Bobby Gupton opened this portion of Monday night’s meeting by asking the Council if an emeritus status City board member should retain their pay.

Gupton indicated that he raised the question in closed session during the last meeting, but he did not see why the discussion should continue in closed session.

Gupton argued that there is a need to pay active members, but not honorary ones.

The name of the emeritus member was not revealed during the course of the discussion as it is considered a personnel matter. However, there is currently only one emeritus member of any City board, and his status was conferred during an open session of the council in August of 2004.

During the discussion, it was indicated that City Attorney John Zollicoffer had offered the opinion that the emeritus member did in fact contribute work to the board on which he enjoys his honorary status. Gupton differed with Zollicoffer on this point.

Gupton moved that honorary, emeritus, or non-appointed City board members should not be paid. The motion was seconded by Council member Ranger Wilkerson. The effective date of the introduced ordinance was set for July 1 of this year.

Member Mary Emma Evans asked if the Council could say that it would not pay anyone else, thus allowing the emeritus member to retain his City salary. She indicated that the Council had conferred upon the individual in question the emeritus status, and she also commented that he is nearly 100 years old.

Gupton said that City employees have been questioning him about why people are paid for doing nothing.

Not all City boards pay members. However, the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment members enjoy a salary of $25 per month.

Zollicoffer told Evans that her idea could be enacted.

“This is not a charity,” Gupton commented.

Council member Lonnie Davis said that it was tough for him to see a person who is dedicated and “all of a sudden cut his throat”.

“We can’t be hard-core all of the time,” Davis said.

Gupton replied that to him, it is the taxpayers’ money.

Evans commented that she believes that the City has some taxpayers with a heart.

“The love of money is the root of all evil,” Evans quoted.

Henderson Mayor Clem Seifert argued that there is precedent for ex officio board members not being paid. He argued that as mayor he is automatically an ex officio member of all City boards, and he has never been paid for his service.

“You owe me some back money,” Seifert quipped.

Gupton told the Council that he was not talking about $25, but rather that it had been three years, and that he was talking about [nearly] $1,000.

Council member Garry Daeke asked how the emeritus member had continued to get a check.

Member Bernard Alston said that it was never determined not to pay him.

Daeke said that he assumed that it had been done for longevity.

The board member in question is a thirty-year veteran of Planning Board service.

Zollicoffer pointed out that the Vice-Chair of the Planning Board is also an ex officio member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment who votes on both boards. He indicated that the Vice-Chair is paid as a member of both boards, and that the motion introduced by Gupton would cut his salary.

Council member Lynn Harper commented that it was never voted upon to pay the emeritus member. She characterized it as an error that should be discontinued.

Member Elissa Yount said that it was not an error of the sitting Council, but of the previous Council.

Alston vigorously corrected Yount, stating that it was not a Council error, but an oversight.

Both Yount and Alston were members of the previous Council that conferred the emeritus status upon the individual who was the subject of Monday’s debate.

Harper then shifted her position slightly. Reaffirming her desire to save money, she stated that she tended to agree with Evans. Harper stated a belief that cutting the pay of the emeritus member would create public relations problems.

“It’s not that I don’t agree with Mr. Gupton,” Harper said.

“Well finally you don’t,” Wilkerson commented to Harper.

After discussion, Gupton’s motion was amended to allow the Vice-Chair of the Planning Board to continue to receive a salary for his participation on both of the boards upon which he is required to serve.

Evans then offered a substitute motion. This motion was the same as Guptons’, except it allowed the current emeritus member to continue to be paid.

After a roll call vote, the substitute motion passed, with Gupton, Yount, and Wilkerson voting against it.

Because the ordinance did not pass on its first reading with a three-fourths majority (a vote of six Council members), it will automatically be placed on the agenda for the next City Council meeting. On the second reading, it can pass with a simple majority. However, because it passed with a majority on the first reading, Gupton’s original motion is no longer on the table.

Wilkerson, a long-time veteran of Henderson politics, said that it was the first time he had heard of this particular situation.

Seifert commented that Evans’ amendment to Gupton’s original ordinance in her substitute motion would have defeated the pupose of the originally proposed ordinance.