I have no problem lavishly compensating our local elected public officials. Maybe even in the realm of $100,000 or more. I’ll explain my reasoning on this later, but first I would like to bring to readers’ attention the text of the last amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 27th Amendment reads as follows:
“No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”
This amendment was first proposed and sent to the states in the original Bill of Rights in 1789, but for various reasons most of the state Legislatures failed to ratify it at that time. Since the Bill of Rights specified no expiration date for ratification, the amendment remained pending for more than 200 years until Michigan ratified it in 1992.
Since it is the “nature and disposition of nearly all men” — to quote from Mormon scripture — to “exercise unrighteous dominion” when given power, it is not at all surprising that the Tooele County Commission voted to give themselves an obscene pay raise last week. Our Founding Fathers recognized this “nature and disposition” in themselves and other officers of the republic early on. James Madison, the original author of the amendment, stated at the time, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” The man was wise!
Now, I don’t blame the Tooele County Commission for trying to raise their salary. If given the power to do so at will, who wouldn’t? This is why the residents of Tooele County should ratify a constitution of sorts containing the wording of this amendment only slightly altered:
“No resolution, varying the compensation for the services of any county officer or elected official, shall take effect, until a general election for county officers shall have intervened.”
Of course, people will say we already have recourse in this matter. We can just “throw the bums out” in the next election. This was among the reasons given for delaying ratification back in the 1790s.
However, as time passed and experience gained, we figured out, as the Founding Fathers already knew, this is impractical. Of necessity the collective electorate cannot be fully engaged in every decision made by government, and therefore, tend to have a short-term memory when it comes to the trust they invest in their elected officials.
The Tooele County Commission (bless their all-too-human souls) is well aware of this. Myron Bateman and Wade Bitner have more than three years to smooth over any violation of trust the public might feel in this matter. Shawn Milne, up for reelection next year, understandably voted against raising his own salary. Good for him, regardless of his motivations.
The only way to permanently resolve this issue of human nature is to apply constitutional principles to our local county government. We need to call a convention now to ratify an amendment to our county charter — one that cannot be rescinded through resolution by some future county commission — clearly declaring that any pay raise will not take effect until the next election.
Now, if you offered six figure salaries for county commission seats, you would stand a good chance of attracting the best and the brightest to run for those positions. Corporations and other businesses do this all the time. They raise the salaries of their top officials before they hire them in hopes of getting the most qualified and talented applicants.
Likewise our local candidates for public office would probably also have the intelligence, forethought and professionalism to run our county without the hubris of trying to raise their salaries without earning it.
Hamilton is a Tooele resident and a graphic artist for Transcript Bulletin Publishing.