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Two Upshur County officials cut own salaries

By Christina Lane
Oct. 31, 2011 at 10 p.m.

GILMER - Two Upshur County commissioners cut their salaries Monday morning as the district attorney added about $10,000 to his payroll. Meanwhile, county residents might be getting nighttime meetings in 2013 and even sooner than that, the county's courtrooms could have a new motto - "In God We Trust" - on their walls.

Commissioner Mike Spencer voluntarily cut his annual salary by $10,990 while Commissioner Cole Hefner cut his $9,990 Monday morning. Spencer cut his salary this past year, but this was the first time Hefner cut his salary. Commissioners James Crittenden and Lloyd Crabtree have not cut their salaries. Before Spencer and Hefner's cuts, each commissioner made $40,990 annually.

"After nearly a year in office, I just didn't feel the job justified the $41,000 salary, and that has been with a rough year," Hefner said. "Hopefully, we'll get everybody down there eventually."

Meanwhile, Treasurer Myra Harris expressed a concern that District Attorney Billy Byrd had set his payroll at about $10,000 more than he was budgeted. Spencer and Crittenden said Byrd had told them he would move the additional money from his discretionary funds to his payroll account about the first of the year. Harris said if commissioners approved the payroll, they would be setting a precedent for other departments to follow.

Crabtree said he was concerned Byrd would not move the money, and noted commissioners had just finished their budget - cutting Byrd's as well as most other department budgets.

County Judge Dean Fowler warned commissioners that if Byrd doesn't move the money and if they approved the payroll adjustment, they would have to find a way to take that $10,000 from elsewhere in the budget. Commissioners approved Byrd's payroll in a 3-1 vote with Crabtree dissenting.

In a unanimous vote, commissioners approved adding an "In God We Trust" motto to the county's courtrooms. Hefner suggested the addition noting that nearby counties such as Rusk, Wood and Smith had added the motto to their courtrooms above or below the seal. The addition will be funded through donations, Hefner said.

"We enjoy the freedoms that we do because of our creator and we ought to acknowledge him," Hefner said.

While Hefner's motto suggestion was relatively new for county courtrooms, Crittenden's agenda item was a repeat for Upshur County - the issue of having nighttime commissioners court meetings.

Evening meetings would give members of the public the chance to come to meetings when they normally can't because of work, Crittenden said. Upshur County's Commissioners Court meetings are typically held at 9 a.m. twice a month. Gregg, Harrison, Rusk and other surrounding counties also have morning meetings.

Crittenden has placed the item on agendas in the past, but it has never received enough votes to become a reality for the county and its residents.

"The business of the county is to be conducted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Crabtree said.

Crabtree said the commissioners court had already set the dates for its 2012 meetings, so Spencer suggested nighttime meetings be reconsidered when setting 2013 dates and times. Crabtree seconded the motion, but Hefner and Crittenden voted against it. Hefner and Crittenden supported having night meetings in 2012. Fowler cast the deciding vote, opting in favor of reconsidering the night meetings in a year.



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