advises against mid-term COLAs
Dont give cost of living allowances
(COLAs) to elected officeholders mid-term. Any cost of
living allowances should be accumulated and only granted
to each elected official upon the beginning of a new term
Platte County Counselor Bob Shaw rendered
that opinion to the county commission during open session
on Thursday. His legal opinion may soon become a point
of reference for other counties in the state.
I have prepared this legal opinion
in response to your letter of Oct. 24, 2005, requesting
my response to the following question: Is the acceptance
of a mid-term cost of living adjustment by an elected
county official constitutional?, said Shaw.
After providing a history of past cases
and arguments that have somewhat revolved around this
issue throughout the state, including the countys
own suit against former county commissioners Diza Eskridge
and Michael Short, Shaw concluded his presentation to
the commission with his opinion.
It is my opinion . . .that granting
cost of living adjustments to elected county officials
on an annual basis violates the terms and the purpose
of Article VII, Section 13 of the Missouri Constitution,
As the implementation of cost of
living adjustments on an annual basis requires specific
annual discretionary decisions by the County Commissioners
to declare and fund those adjustments, it would appear
that these decisions would be considered the type of actions
which fall within the purpose of Article VII, Section
13 as described in the Folk decision. Instead, it would
appear that the appropriate procedure would be for any
cost of living adjustments approved by the county commission
after authorization by the salary commission to be accumulated
and compounded in order to be granted to each elected
official upon the beginning of a new term of office.
The request for Shaws opinion came
about after associate county commissioners Jim Plunkett
and Tom Pryor walked away from the salary commission meeting
in October with a lot of unanswered questions.
As reported in The Landmark, Presiding
Commissioner Betty Knight, First District Commissioner
Tom Pryor and Second District Commissioner Jim Plunkett
signed a letter to Shaw on Monday, Oct. 24 requesting
his legal opinion.
There was a lot of concern from
last weeks meeting that we get to the bottom of
this and we felt the right thing to do was to ask for
this written legal opinion from our county counselor and
have it presented in (administrative session), said
That concern came after Shaw was unable
to give a clear-cut answer when questioned by Plunkett
at the salary commission meeting if the countys
practice of giving COLAs to officeholders in the middle
of their terms was legal.
I wanted our county counselor to
answer some additional questions and provide a framework
that we can work in and legally defend, said Pryor.
Plunkett said now that the county has
received Shaws written and verbal legal opinion,
he is more confident of what the county should be doing
in the parameters of the legal system.
Its not a matter of whether
Im happy or not, I just want to know that were
doing the right thing, stated Plunkett. I
just wasnt willing to accept the status quo and
I wanted to be sure if I was going to sign off on it as
a commissioner that I was comfortable with the way it
was being done.
According to Pryor, he thought the county
had experienced the last legality issue regarding mid-term
pay raises with the dismissal of the Short case months
I would have been pleased if we
didnt have to deal with this issue, but it became
apparent it needed to be dealt with because there were
certain decisions and policies that the county commission
needed to deal with and needed answers to, said
Now that Shaw has given his legal opinion,
the commissioners and salary commission will need to decide
where the county proceeds from here.
I think he researched it very well
and it seems like there are issues on either side and
because the county counselor has made the recommendation,
I think we should follow it, said Knight.
Knight said they may take a survey at
the upcoming officeholders meeting on Nov. 15 to
see if the salary commission wants to rescind its previous
motion made on Oct. 18.
Shaw suggested in his letter: One
question that may be raised in light of this opinion is
the question of whether the salary commission must meet
to modify its prior action. I do not believe that such
action is absolutely necessary. As I mentioned previously,
the approval of a cost of living adjustment is a two-step
process. The salary commission merely acts to authorize
the county commission to implement the adjustment. The
county commission itself must take action to approve an
adjustment for elected officials, determine the amount
of the adjustment and determine when the adjustment should
become effective. Accordingly, if the county commission
should choose to approve a cost of living adjustment for
elected officers, it could stipulate in its approval that
the adjustment would become effective only upon the beginning
of a new term of office for each official.
If the salary commission decides to hold
another meeting and rescind its previous motion, they
have until Dec. 15 to hold another meeting.
WILL PREVIOUS COLA
MONEY BE RETURNED?
I dont know what the final answers are going
to be but were asking county counselor Bob Shaw
to take the lead on the statutory issues, said Pryor.
Plunkett agreed, stating that while no
decisions have been made about collecting past mid-term
COLAs, it will be under consideration.
Its something were going
to take under review, said Plunkett.
If the commission would decide to pursue
the recapture of previously paid mid-term COLAs
to the officeholders, it could potentially affect all
members of the salary commission.
The Platte County Salary Commission is
comprised of 12 elected officials. Those serving on the
commission are: Knight, Pryor, Plunkett, Collector Donna
Nash, Sheriff Richard Anderson, County Clerk Sandy Krohne,
Public Administrator Terry Edwards, Assessor Lisa Pope,
Auditor Sandra Thomas, Treasurer Bonnie Brown, Recorder
of Deeds Ida Cox and Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd.
However, Zahnd would not be affected because his salary
is set by state statute.