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Island County commissioner Emerson’s nemesis gets a raise

One Island County commissioner sued the county’s planning director and now the other two commissioners have given him a raise.

Commissioners Angie Homola and Helen Price Johnson voted to raise Planning Director Bob Pederson’s pay grade from an E-28 to an E-29.

In an interview prior to the meeting, Human Services Director Melanie Bacon explained that the change amounts to a $2,165-a-year raise for Pederson. His salary will jump from $72,160 to $74,325 a year.

The commissioners didn’t discuss the matter Monday. Commissioner Kelly Emerson recused herself and Homola thanked her for doing that. Emerson had a potential conflict of interest since she named Pederson as a defendant in a lawsuit against the county last year.

Still, Emerson made her thoughts clear on the issue at a recent meeting of the Island County chapter of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights.

“When he was hired, Angie Homola was trying to give him more than what he asked for,” Emerson claimed, asserting that the county pays more than the private sector. She added later that the midst of a budget crisis isn’t the right time for pay increases.

The facts, however, are more nuanced. The board of commissioners hired Pederson in 2009  after the former planning director, Jeff Tate, surprised everyone by quitting.

The commissioners wanted the new planning director to be at the same E-29 pay grade as the former planning director. But Larry Larson, former human resources director, lowballed Pederson, claiming that the board of commissioners had set the smaller, E-28 salary as a maximum. It was a directive, Homola said, “that never happened.”

Pederson accepted the job at the smaller salary and Larson got in trouble with the commissioners. Larson was fired a year later.

Since then, Homola has urged her fellow commissioners to fix what she sees as an unfair error.

“Clearly this is only a small corrective measure but it speaks to the board’s values and decency, at least to those of us who were a part of this decision,” Homola said in an email.

“I believe in the value of people’s worth. That is why I fought to reduce hours over wages so that when employees earned less money, they had the difference in hours for their families or themselves. That way they come to work with pride and dedication to service,” she added.

Bacon also recommended that the planning director position be reclassified as a E-29 based on the market. She said the position just isn’t competitive at the current pay grade.

In addition, she said the pay grade isn’t internally consistent. The planning director’s pay grade is at the same level as the human resources director and the budget director, who share one support employee. The planning director, by contrast, runs a department with 21 employees.

Homola also pointed out that the county is paying a lot less for land-use issues now than under previous boards. The county previously had a consultant land-use attorney who earned $350,000 a year. After he was let go, the planning department and prosecutor’s office took on his duties without additional  compensation, Homola said.

Furthermore, Homola said Tate, the former planning director, earned more than $80,000 a year as an E-29. Even with a raise, Pederson makes $6,000 a year less, but has 18 years’ more experience and a higher level of education.

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