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Updated: Chair Olson-Boseman's resolution would strip raises from NHC commissioners who didn't support budget

The historic New Hanover County Courthouse, where county commissioners hold regular meetings.
Benjamin Schachtman
The historic New Hanover County Courthouse, where county commissioners hold regular meetings.

Update Tuesday 3 p.m. — NHC Chair Julia Olson-Boseman confirmed Tuesday morning that resolution had been pulled from the agenda. It's not yet clear why. This article will be updated with any additional available information.

During the Board of Commissioners meeting there was not formal discussion of the resolution, but Commissioner Deb Hays did publicly ask to reject the raise.

“I would like to ask all of you to give thoughtful consideration to revisiting the commissioners' pay and discuss this and discuss a more moderate approach before our meeting in July. With that said, Mr. FRANKOLINI. I would I am not accepting the pay increase as it was voted in," Hays said.

The resolution claims that commissioners Deb Hays and Rob Zapple "desire to forego" the raises provided in the recently-approved budget — which Zapple denies. Under state law, commissioners must agree to a pay reduction that takes place during their current term — although the resolution may serve more to force a discussion than to actually alter anyone's compensation.

The county commissioners' agenda was updated Monday afternoon — the meeting is Tuesday morning — to include a resolution entitled "County Commissioner Enhanced Compensation Resolution," which read in part: "Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners hereby resolves and approves that Commissioners Deb Hays and Rob Zapple decline any enhanced compensation provided by the FY-22 budget."

Related: WHQR's newsroom talks NHC budget, tax hikes, and pickleball

Hays and Zapple were the two dissenting voices in the split vote to approve the budget earlier this month; the budget included both an effective tax increase and a pay bump for commissioners, raising stipends (ie. salaries) by over 80% after over a decade of remaining at the same level.

Below: The resolution

Ben Schachtman

Chair Julia Olson-Boseman said that she asked for the resolution to be added to the agenda last week. A county spokesperson said the addition had been supported by a "majority of the board" — which is necessary to amend the agenda — but couldn't confirm which commissioners approved it. The resolution was initially added to the consent agenda, but Hays pulled it for discussion ahead of Tuesday's meeting.

Olson-Boseman confirmed that the resolution is based on comments made by Hays and Zapple in theStarNews recently.

The article noted that Hays "didn't run for a position in local government for the pay," and Zapple was quoted saying, "nobody gets into this line of work — local government that is — for the pay [...] I'm in it for the public service and it did not sit well with me to have a request for a pay increase for the commissioners at the same time we were asking for an increase in tax."

Olson Boseman said, "I respect their principles and don’t want them to be forced to take money that they don’t want."

Hays could not be reached for comment. Zapple said he wasn't misquoted in Star, but emphasized that he did not request a pay cut and had not discussed any desire to that effect with Olson-Boseman, other commissioners, or county staff.

That's notable because state law prohibits reducing an elected official's compensation during their current term — as well as unequally reducing salaries — without the approval of the official(s) affected. Under § 153A-92(b)(1) and § 153A-92(b)(3):

  • The board of commissioners may not reduce the salary, allowances, or other compensation paid to an officer elected by the people for the duties of his elective office if the reduction is to take effect during the term of office for which the incumbent officer has been elected, unless the officer agrees to the reduction or unless the Local Government Commission pursuant to Chapter 159, Article 10, orders a reduction.
  • If the board of commissioners reduces the salaries, allowances, or other compensation of employees assigned to an officer elected by the people, and the reduction does not apply alike to all county offices and departments, the elected officer involved must approve the reduction. If the elected officer refuses to approve the reduction, he and the board of commissioners shall meet and attempt to reach agreement. If agreement cannot be reached, either the board or the officer may refer the dispute to arbitration by the senior resident superior court judge of the superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1 in which the county is located. The judge shall make an award within 30 days after the day the matter is referred to him. The award may extend for no more than two fiscal years, including the fiscal year for which it is made.

The language of the resolution appears to try and work around the statute by taking it as a legal given that Hays and Zapple have expressed their desires not to receive pay increases.

It's likely that Olson-Boseman has the votes to pass the resolution, since at least three members of the five-person board approved adding it to the agenda. However, since Zapple denies any 'desire' for a pay cut, and the pay cut does not apply across the entire board, if he or Hays were to protest the resolution, state law appears to suggest that if a majority of the board forced the issue it would go before a judge.

It's also possible that the resolution is not intended to pass but to force Hays and Zapple to publicly reconcile voting against the budget while still benefitting from increased salaries.

The resolution is the last item on the agenda for the Board of Commissioners meeting, which will be held Tuesday, June 22, at 9 a.m. in Room 301 of the New Hanover County Courthouse located at 24 N. Third St.

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.