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Department Heads Await Results Of Salary Survey

County officials decline to release study results

A survey of the salaries of Klickitat County employees has become the subject of employee and department head requests, but county officials have so far declined to release results of the study.

Lori Wolford, head of the Personnel Department, said the information in the study has not been made public, and she did not know when it would be.

"I have no estimate on when it will get released through the Board of Commissioners," Wolford said. "I can't release anything until they release it."

Wolford added that the study, which was conducted by Martech Associates, a Portland consultant, was not yet complete.

Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck said the survey was started about a year ago, and was still in progress.

"It's a working document, exempt from public disclosure," said Struck.

Struck explained that the objective of the survey is to modify the county's pay scale in an effort to make sure that employees who handle similar jobs in different departments receive the same basic pay, as well as to make sure that Klickitat County pays wages similar to what is paid in other counties.

"We want to make sure our pay scale is comparable with like counties in the state, and also with Wasco County and Hood River County in Oregon," Struck explained.

The study cost the county approximately $24,000.

Struck said the report came back from Martech in the "second quarter" of 2002, and since then the commissioners have been reviewing the information with the Personnel Department.

County officials cited a Washington state law as justification for not making results of the study available to the public or to department managers.

Klickitat County Treasurer Dani Burton and Sheriff Chris Mace are among the county department heads who have asked to see a copy of the salary survey. The requests have been denied.

Under Washington RCW 42.17.310, certain records are exempt from disclosure, and the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office specifically cited the following excerpt from the RCW in question: "Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations, and intra-agency memorandums in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended except that a specific record shall not be exempt when publicly cited by an agency in connection with an agency action."

However, that law may not apply to the salary survey, because the survey has been cited publicly.

"It has been brought up in public forums," said Burton.

The survey was also cited by the county's Chief Financial Officer, Glen Chipman, in a Jan. 9, 2002, article that appeared in The Goldendale Sentinel. The article, headlined "County leaders OK $33.5 million in expenditures," detailed budget expenditures for 2002. One excerpt reads: "Chipman said the commissioners are still examining a pay study in an effort to bring Klickitat County employees in line with other Washington county government staffs of comparable size."

Struck noted that there would be three workshops about the survey in October, but they were not open meetings.

"Salary issues are not for public consumption," Struck explained. "It's a privacy issue for the employees."

While stressing that he speaks only for himself, one of the Sheriff's Office deputies said he doesn't understand why the survey is being kept under wraps.

"It makes you wonder," said Ken MacDonald. "First they say we'll do a salary survey, then it's, `Oh geez, we're supposed to pay them this much?' Now they're saying they won't let this out."

MacDonald said he realized there were financial considerations facing the county.

"I fully understand there's a budget, but there's also a fairness issue," he said. "There are a whole bunch of deputies not getting paid what they're worth, and they're overworked and over-stressed."

Burton said she understood the frustration of employees like MacDonald.

"We've all been losing very good people. We can't pay them an appropriate wage," Burton said. "It's beyond unfortunate when the county loses good employees who are going to better-paying jobs elsewhere."

Struck said he believed the study would be implemented by the end of the year, and be effective for 2003.

"I'm hopeful we can wrap it up this month," Struck said. "Martech has made their recommendations, but it's really complicated, and we want to be fair."

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