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Circus Maximus

This photo belongs to City of Greenville. Photo by Steve Hawley

Greenville city councilmember Max Joyner played to pity in attempting to justify the last-minute pay raise council granted itself and the mayor at its June 14th meeting.

Check out the meeting video. Click here, then advance the video to the 1:44:45 mark. Joyner says:

“If you’re going to put me in charge of a $114 million budget and don’t think I’m worth an extra $100 a month, a total of $625 per month, then you’ve got the wrong man for the job.”

Such righteous indignation often manifests when someone realizes he is on shaky ground. It’s particularly telling that neither prior to Mr. Joyner’s comment nor at any time since has anyone (to our knowledge) suggested council and the mayor “aren’t worth” more money. Indeed, by Mr. Joyner’s own reckoning, these positions haven’t seen pay increases in something like 20 years.

But we believe Mr. Joyner got feisty for other reasons.

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IN OUR OPINION

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One might well have been the 27th Amendment. That’s right, to the United States Constitution. It codifies what each of us knows intuitively: It’s wrong for people who hold elected office to vote themselves raises. Approving an increase for the next group elected is fine, since that group may or may not include them. Makes perfect sense, right?

Another reason Mr. Joyner might have wanted to railroad this through is that doing so prevented public comment. The increase was proposed in an amendment tied to council’s approval of next year’s budget. If the public had been heard, one of the things it may have pointed out was that pesky 27th Amendment thing. That, in turn, might have forced council to do the increase the right way.

Need more? How about the fact that the meeting in which the deed was done was also council’s last for six weeks?

By inferring someone might think he is not worth an increase, Mr. Joyner simply — and deftly — attempted to change the terms of the debate. That his ploy worked on four-fifths of his colleagues is both remarkable and shameful.

The question was never whether council members and the mayor deserve more money. It was about enacting the increases the way the public expects. The way other legislative bodies all over the country do.

Only one council member stood against the proposal: Calvin Mercer, who has since said he will not accept the increase unless and until he is re-elected. Mr. Mercer deserves the public’s gratitude for trying to protect their interests. He was absolutely correct to call council out for its lack of transparency on this act.

Instead, some have attacked him — some of the same people, no doubt, who constantly rail against “out-of-control government” — when Mr. Mercer was trying to prevent the very sort of opaque, spur-of-the-moment decision making they claim to abhor. (And did we mention? It’s unconstitutional. Oh, right. We did.)

Mr. Mercer even suggested council separate out the pay raise — a move called “dividing the question” — which would have forced it to debate and vote on the issue separately. Not one of his colleagues supported that completely reasonable idea. Which might tell us all we need to know about how dysfunctional this council really is.

Greenville’s budget process consumed the better part of the past few months. The final draft was presented three nights prior to the June 14th meeting. Are we really expected to believe it was impossible for the topic of raises for the mayor and council to be publicly debated at some point in that process?

It will be August 6 before council meets again. Ringmaster Joyner and his circus troupe are probably confident this issue will have blown over by then.

Here’s hoping the citizens of Greenville have other ideas.

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