Council debates registrars' pay
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Feb. 21, 2013
The Vernon Town Council had a lengthy debate at its meeting on Feb. 19 over how the town's two registrars of voters are compensated. The council had set the rate of $27,000 per year in August of 2011, but the registrars are also paid a per diem for working on referendum, primary and general election days. In addition, compensation has been paid on an hourly rate for pre-election work.
The average annual payment for per diem work and hourly work over the last three years has been $2,244.33 per registrar. The motion was to fix the salary at $27,000, but have any additional compensation be approved by the council, as it occurs.
Democrats on the council were concerned that the registrars would essentially receive a pay cut, and Republicans maintained that it was simply a different measure of accounting for a town expenditure.
Councilman Tom DiDio had several questions for Republican Registrar Judy Beaudreau, including how many hours she typically spends helping seniors register to vote. Beaudreau said she typically spends a “large amount of time” helping seniors, especially near election time, often returning to senior housing complexes numerous times.
“We could not go back, but we don't do that – we go back,” Beaudreau said. “I've been back the day before election, because they have the right to vote, so we do. You're talking anywhere from six to eight hours per facility, depending how large it is.”
Beaudreau said she and fellow (recently-appointed) registrar John Anderson (and those that came before him) typically work after the office's hours, especially if there are residents who need help.
“I think you do a great job,” Councilman Bill Campbell told the registrars. “The problem I have is, it doesn't appear to me that the council did its job, in terms of what the costs are and how they can improve it. It is not a pay cut. It simply establishes a fixed fee for salary, and then allows you to come in to the town council and ask for whatever additional expenses are necessary.”
Some councilors said they feared the motion would create a “toxic relationship” between the council and the registrars.
“It is indeed a pay cut,” said Councilman Michael Winkler. “It is indeed a slap at the registrars. It's just foolishness. It shouldn't be done. It's not professional.”
Councilwoman Marie Herbst said she is concerned the pay structure could affect voters.
“If that office doesn't work properly, we are infringing on the vote of a person in this community,” she said, “which I consider a crime. They do a heck of a lot of work in there. They can't make mistakes.”
Because the stipends are not currently listed under the registrars' salaries, Councilman John Kopec said the approval process for the per diem funds would simply “clarify what total monies are being paid to the registrars” and “makes the stipends see the light of day.”
Echoing the sentiment of fellow Democrats, DiDio made an amendment to the motion, changing the registrars' salary to include the stipends, for a total of $29,250. “That now solves the problem,” he added. “It is completely transparent.”
Discussion on that amendment showed opposition for several given reasons, including that the stipends would still “not be visible in the budget” according to Kopec.
Ward said the point of the resolution was simply to make sure that the council was aware that the total compensation for registrars was more than the $27,000 budgeted as salary. Mayor George Apel made the point that budgets where there are multiple referenda can drive up election officials' pay, and the council should have better control over such instances, so the resolution makes sense.
After the amendment failed, 7-4 with one abstention, the original motion passed, 7-5, along party lines.