Tuesday, August 22, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Pay heroes living wage

A former Jacksonville firefighter is a quarter of a million dollars richer after he convinced a judge he was wrongfully terminated in 2013.

While former Fire Capt. Scott Moon and his attorney Robert Newcomb combined for a hefty settlement totaling $271,228 in back pay and lawyer fees worked out with Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg. Bamburg told the city council Thursday that the fire department has the money available and that it would be paid out over several months, which will mean less money available for firefighters who continue to serve with distinction in the department.

According to Jacksonville Civil Service Commission records, Fire Chief Alan Laughy fired Moon on July 5, 2013, for violating the fire department’s rules on professional conduct. Last July, Circuit Judge Cathleen Compton ruled Jacksonville owed Moon about $240,000, plus 10 percent interest, in back pay from his dismissal date. Moon was paid extra so the city didn’t have to rehire him after the judge told the city to give him the job back.

Without getting into the merits of Moon’s case and his rich settlement, it’s in sharp contrast with the modest pay many first responders make in our area. Lonoke County Sheriff John Staley asked the quorum court Thursday to find more money for his deputies and jailers, who are so poorly paid, many of them find better paying jobs elsewhere, even in small towns like Clarendon.

The quorum court’s budget committee was meeting Tuesday night to consider his request to pay his staff a livable wage. “It’s getting difficult to find adequate staff,” Staley told the justices of the peace last week. “They are leaving to go to other places. These men and women work hard. I have a dispatcher making $21,000 a year. She has kids and is eligible for food stamps.”

Five deputies from a staff of 30 left this year for greener pastures. One deputy who had previously worked in Lonoke went to work for Staley for $6,000 more yearly, but the deputy has joined the North Little Rock Police Department for an annual salary of $48,000, which is fair pay for folks who put their lives on the line every day. Starting pay for Lonoke County deputies is $24,000, which goes up to $27,000 after a year. After that, it’s up to the quorum court to come up with more money. Surely there’s waste in other departments that the quorum court could eliminate to allow deputies and jailers a modest pay increase.

Lonoke County is huge — 826 square miles, one of the biggest in the state — with just four deputies per shift. Cabot has seven officers per shift covering 20 square miles. The sheriff says he needs five or six more deputies per shift to cover the county adequately.

The people of Lonoke County must choose between professional law-enforcement that’s adequately funded or running the department on a shoestring. Our first responders and the people they protect deserve better.