On hiring a county engineer

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Lee County Engineer Neal Hall retires at the end of this month, after 23 years with the Lee County Highway Department, the last 16 as County Engineer. We thank Neal for his long years of service to the county and wish him all the best in his retirement.

The county engineer position is one of three positions reporting directly to the county commission. The other two are county administrator and EMA director.

The engineer position is the only one which is a contract position; the other two are merit positions. All three are relatively high-paying positions, especially for county government, especially in these trying economic times for all public employees.

Mr. Hall reportedly earns about $156,000 annually, pretty darn good pay for Lee County.

This salary level is substantially higher then county engineer salaries in comparable Alabama counties. So now we have the opportunity to adjust our county engineer salary level to a more realistic, right?

So now the Lee County Commissioners, being good responsible stewards of our tax dollars, advertise this salary-adjusted job and pick the best qualified applicant to succeed Mr. Hall. Wrong!

Our Lee County Commissioners, in their infinite wisdom, decided to save all that valuable time and money for a job search and appoint the current Assistant County Engineer, with 10 years of engineering experience, all in this county, to the position.

And that isn’t even the half of it. A $40,000 a year pay raise, to $121,500, accompanies the job offer! Not bad, huh?

This is no personal criticism of Justin Hardee, the current assistant county engineer.

It is, however, an extreme criticism of the process the commission chose to follow.

What’s wrong with advertising the job, at least within the state? Without even trying, we’ve heard of a number of engineers who would have been interested in exploring the job and this number includes at least one county engineer.

Maybe bringing in someone from outside the county would have been a good thing, given the morale problems reportedly existing in the highway department. Maybe not.

Maybe Mr. Hardee would have emerged as the top choice. But then we would have been sure, wouldn’t we?

And the pay raise. How will a 50 percent pay raise look to other county employees who haven’t seen a pay increase since 2008?

Not only that, but, as one commissioner put it at the last meeting, what are you going to do if you fall out of love with him if you are paying him that much money?

To his credit, one of the three businessmen on the commission tried repeatedly to get his colleagues to advertise the position, even offering to guarantee any in-house applicant an interview.

But his colleagues, having saved their constituents money earlier in the meeting, were determined to spend part of it recklessly.

In the end, even he caved in and made the foul deed a unanimous vote. Shame on all of you!

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