Court staff gets pay increase
By Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]
The Crawford County Council approved increases that make the pay for the new circuit court bailiff and court reporter equal. It greatly increases the pay for the bailiff, establishing that the two new people in those positions will each make $35,000 annually.
The action came following a presentation by Judge Sabrina Bell at the Feb. 9 meeting of the council.
Last year, the council increased the pay for a new court reporter, who succeeded 30-year veteran Kaylea Crecelius. Councilman Bill Breeding referred to Crecelius’ tenure, questioning why her replacement lasted only months.
“I’ll be real honest and real frank,” said Bell, adding she was devastated when Crecelius left. “ … The nature of the job has changed. What (Crecelius) did and the job she did for 30 years is not what they do today.”
Bell said Crecelius made the decision to leave after dealing with the additional workload for three years.
“It’s too fast-paced, never-ending and it never lets up,” said Bell.
She referred to Odyssey, the software system used by the state to file and track court cases.
“Odyssey is not efficient,” Bell said. “It doesn’t make things better or faster.”
Bell said she can attest to that because she has personally handled uploading cases to the system for the past six weeks.
The court reporter position was increased by $6,000 to the maximum level of $29,164 while Crecelius was employed. The council approved increasing the salary to $35,000 when Bell hired a new person last year. That person, Joy Anderson, had the experience and college degree that made her worth the increase, said the judge.
Bell assumed the council had increased the pay rate for the position, not the person.
“It never crossed my mind it was specific to Joy Anderson,” she said. “ … That’s not what I intended.”
Bell explained the new court reporter has the same qualifications as Anderson, including experience and a degree. She also said the money was already included in her budget.
She said Crawford County pays its court staff far below surrounding counties.
“I can’t compete with other courts,” she said, noting the high turnover rate she’s experienced. “I lost my last one to Orange County. She’s making the same amount and does one-sixth the work.”
Bell said her bailiff quit as well.
Without a staff for a time period, “I had to pull in probation and CASA to keep it afloat,” she said, adding she has worked late into the night completing paperwork following holding court during the day, just to keep things going.
Bell said she has found a person for the bailiff position who is “exactly what we need. … She knows how to do everything.”
The current pay rate for bailiff is $27,000, and Bell asked to increase it to $35,000.
She said she budgeted $15,000 for a part-time position she has not been able to fill. Bell proposed pulling $8,000 from that to the bailiff position.
She plans to split court duties evenly between the court reporter and bailiff.
“I’m not asking for more,” she said. “I’m asking for what’s approved and already in the budget.”
Bell said she will not fill the third position at this time but stressed it is needed and needs to be full time. She said the remaining $7,000 for the part-time position could be used for pauper attorney fees and mental health evaluations as needed. One such evaluation costs $3,000.
“We had five cases last year,” said Bell. “Those are not discretionary. By law, we have to provide them.”
Breeding expressed his concern for employees in other county offices.
“I don’t feel it’s fair to other employees we have to bring someone in and start them at the top,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of other people still working for $9 an hour.”
Bell said she certainly understands that but noted as the judicial branch, “I’m not another county office. I am your co-equal branch of government. I set the hours, wages and salary. … We’re barely functioning right now.”
County attorney Marcus Burgher IV explained that the courts will back up Bell through a mandate action. If the council doesn’t approve the pay increases, Bell can seek relief through the court system and “if the court says it’s necessary and appropriate, you’re obligated to pay whatever the court says you have to pay.”
Burgher said Clark County had that experience some years ago. Told there was no money for court staff pay increases, the judges filed suit.
“It was a mandate action,” he said. “They had to pay $300,000 in attorney fees. The judges won; they got the positions and salaries they wanted.”
Bell said some taxpayers don’t like that.
“It offended people … but the law does say that,” she said. “I don’t say it because I think I’m better or it’s a power play.”
Bell asked to sit down with the council at budget time and rewrite the court’s portion of the salary ordinance so that the pay is tied to the positions, not the people filling them.
Bell said working in court “is hard, emotionally-tolling work.”
One person who left said, “there’s no amount you could pay me to stay at this,” Bell told the council.
“ … I come to you today desperate, tired, worn out and overwhelmed,” she said.
Breeding made a motion to approve Bell’s request, noting the council really doesn’t have a choice. The motion passed.
“I’m not going to abuse that power,” promised Bell. “I want to work with you. … It’s not efficient for me to keep coming back here, and it’s not efficient for you. Instead of just putting a Band-Aid on it, I want to fix it.”