Rick Badie's Gwinnett: Low pay keeping hopefuls away

Chuck Warbington said he’d grown “disappointed and ashamed” with the character of Gwinnett County’s leadership.

Moreover, this resident —whose family has called the county home seven-plus generations — said the outrageousness of the County Commission had led him to seriously consider a bid for the chairmanship.

This week, though, Warbington backed out with the announcement he won’t be a candidate for the chairman’s seat. Too bad. He’s one of the most civic-minded people I’ve ever met.

He gave solid reasons for his decision, the two biggies being family and unfinished work as executive director of the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District.

But suspicion suggests something else played in to the Georgia Tech grad’s decision. And if so, it’s understandable.

The full-time chairman’s post pays $58,342 to run what amounts to a billion-dollar entity.

The chief must put up with 880,000 of us, not to mention folk trying to line their pockets at taxpayer expense.

The county’s economic engine doesn’t churn so mightily anymore. Budget cuts are at the forefront of spending decisions, not an afterthought.

The county has been in a leadership vacuum so long we don’t know what good government looks like. All we know is that we want people of character and integrity to lead. To make us proud.

But how can you attract him or her on a salary shy of $60,000?

Patrick T. Malone, a partner in a management consulting firm, lived in Gwinnett 33 years. He recently moved to Blairsville, maintains an office in Tucker, and stays attuned to area politics.

The salary issue, he told me, shrinks the candidate pool. You either have to be retired or independently wealthy.

He used Warbington as a case study.

“He probably would have been looking at 50 percent of what he is currently making,” Malone said. “It is a wonderful thing he is doing for southern Gwinnett, and he will continue to lead the revitalization. But it is a greater Gwinnett loss that we don’t have someone of his caliber running. The same goes with [county Tax Commissioner] Katherine Meyer.”

The way Malone sees it, the job doesn’t pay enough, given the massive responsibility. The chairman’s salary, he told me, should be at least $150,000. By comparison, Cobb County’s full-time board chairman makes $129,877.

On March 15, a special election will be held to fill the chairman’s post left vacant by Charles Bannister, who resigned in October. The candidate filing period is Monday through Wednesday.

Because of that, Malone and others floated the idea of raising the county chief’s pay to the sitting commissioners. They wanted to have the hike in place before next week.

“The commissioners didn’t have the political guts to do it, to put it bluntly,” Malone said. “None expressed an interest in pursuing the idea.”

More money in to the pot wouldn’t be a total fix of county woes. Just one of many that’s sorely needed.

Rick Badie, an Opinion columnist, is based in Gwinnett. Reach him at rbadie@ajc.com or 770-263-3875.