LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - Lubbock County commissioners voted for pay raises for all county elected officials back in September, including themselves.
But what you may not know is that the commissioners used your tax dollars to hire a public relations consultant for advice on the best way to tell you about those pay raises.
KCBD News Channel 11 requested copies of all documents and invoices regarding the Lubbock County commissioners' pay raise and its public relations consultant.
What we found were emails advising the pay raise issue be buried in other commissioner news when announced to the public.
This made us question the transparency of these pay raises, so we sat down with a county commissioner to discuss the advice that your tax dollars bought.
"Roughly $20,000 is the most we've spent in one year with this one company," Patti Jones, County Commissioner Pct. 4, said.
Jones says commissioners hired a PR company nearly a decade ago to help with elections.
According to the commissioners' court agenda from July 28 of last year, commissioners were to consider exempting a contract with the PR company from competitive bidding requirements as a professional service.
We asked: "At that point, had the commissioners read the contract?"
"We worked off of a P.O. A P.O. can be a binding contract just like a regular contract," Jones said.
We asked, "I know a while ago we requested a copy of the contract you had with this PR consultant and, I guess because you guys were working off of PO's we were not provided with one. Did that have anything to do with the decision not to use this consultant moving forward?"
"Yes, I would say it did bring it to our attention to kind of look at our practice," Jones said.
We requested copies of invoices and emails from the county to the PR company and learned that last year, the consultant started receiving payment from commissioners for political advice on the best approach to communicate the details of commissioners' pay raises to the public.
So we raised the issue: "I have an email pulled up here and you can take a look at it from August 21st where the PR consultant says,'I still want to stay as benign as possible. And on my end, I am working to load up media with as much other news items per elections info and other items to keep them as busy as possible as we head into early voting.' So it sounds like they are trying to, you are trying to, bury the pay raises."
"And I understand, reading those emails, yes I can understand where it looks like it was trying to be buried, those were the PR's words about trying to be benign," Jones said.
Bury it, pull a fast one or as the PR consultant refers to it in an email to commissioners "dodging the media bullet."
"Somebody from the outside looking in - it would look like we were trying to 'pull a fast one' on Lubbock county, and we weren't."
In that same email chain, Jones writes to the PR consultant: "We've discussed that if the media is present, Greg (a county employee) will make a presentation, if they are not we will take swift action on the item and move on to the next agenda item."
We asked: "Do you think that's fair to the taxpayers that were present that day?"
"Well, the thing about that is when I wrote in there - we that morning - Greg George had called me to find out what to do for commissioner's court that day. So, when I reference in there 'we,' that was a conversation that I had with Greg George that if the media was there then we would make the presentation, if not then he wouldn't need to be there to make the presentation, we would just go ahead and go through the agenda just like we normally would," Jones said.
We asked: "So, do you think if more people had been in attendance, the presentation might have been given?"
"Yes, I do," Jones said.
We asked: "For the people, the taxpayers, our viewers who are watching and wonder if this is a proper use of their money, their tax dollars, what would you say to those viewers?"
"Okay, we spent $2,400 on that particular item as far as having the PR consultant to help with that. We felt like, let's give this a try this time, see about getting the word out and the reasoning is why so that maybe we could get a little, for lack of better words, a different spin on it, as far as effectively giving raises to all of the elected officials in Lubbock county, not just ourselves. Did it work? No," Jones said.
We are told 28 county employees received a pay raise.
County Judge Tom Head's salary jumped from $77,450 to $109,925; that is an increase of $32,475.
County Commissioners' salaries increased from $57,600 to $79,985, which includes an expense allowance. That is an increase of $22,385.
Jones said this is the fourth pay raise in 12 years.
Jones said at the beginning of this year, the PR company is not being paid by Lubbock County.