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McClash's opposition to pay raises draws colleagues' ire

MANATEE — Manatee County commissioners again chastised one of their own Thursday over an opinion piece he wrote about looming pay raises for some county employees.

Some colleagues accused Commissioner Joe McClash of “grandstanding,” “running to the media” and undercutting the county administrator’s authority by writing the unpublished piece. McClash defended his article, saying he was seeking to publicize the financial impacts of the pay raises.

About 350 county employees are scheduled to get raises of roughly $100 to $5,000 a year April 11, the result of a pay study that said they were earning less than their jobs’ market entry-level rate. McClash was the only commissioner to oppose the raises, saying it shouldn’t be done during tight budget times.

He reiterated his opposition in a “guest column” dated for release today, saying the raises — some of which would be achieved through job reclassifications — would cost $3 million and possibly result in 70 county employees losing their jobs. McClash also said the county offers more-generous employee benefits than the private sector does.

“We all need to realize now is not the time to implement the pay and classification study recommendations to increase pay when most state and local employees are having their pay frozen, benefits reduced and dreams shattered,” he wrote.

In a reply letter to commissioners, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker — who was not at Thursday’s meeting — said the actual impact would be about $503,000 annually. He also said a plan to reduce the number of county employees eligible for overtime and standby pay would save an estimated $435,000 a year.

Other commissioners took offense to McClash’s method of voicing his opinion, saying he was attempting to sway public opinion against their decision to authorize the raises.

“Mr. McClash, you’re going to the media again,” Commissioner Donna Hayes said. “This is the place to do it, not in the newspapers.”

Commissioner Carol Whitmore called McClash’s article “grandstanding” and said “there are more professional ways to do this.” Commissioner Larry Bustle said the board can’t stop McClash from speaking out, but that McClash’s opinions don’t always reflect those of his colleagues.

“This person is speaking for himself,” Bustle said. “If he insists on going on and protesting every time he loses, that’s his prerogative.”

Commission Chairwoman Gwen Brown said McClash was undercutting Hunzeker’s ability to do his job. “We really don’t need a county administrator, we can just hire him,” she said of McClash.

It was the second time commissioners have criticized McClash for writing a letter opposing the pay raises. The first was a January letter to Hunzeker that McClash later made public.

McClash defended his writings, saying he is trying to publicize an issue that had been a topic of private meetings between Hunzeker and individual commissioners.

“I think there’s been a lot of inaccuracies in what people have said,” he said. “If you want to change it (pay), you shouldn’t do it behind closed doors.”

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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