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Hernando's gender bias complaint didn't have to happen

Hernando commissioners can blame their own inept management for a federal gender bias claim from one of their most respected employees.

Community Services director Jean Rags, who oversees health and human services and other county departments, had been recommended for a $9,700 pay raise last month, intended to bring her annual salary to $87,056. It was one of four planned salary adjustments, with a net savings of more than $9,000, to more closely match remuneration with responsibility among the county government's managers and directors.

Instead, a commission, ill-prepared to act as managers, objected to the proposed changes and ordered County Administrator David Hamilton to return this month with broader recommendations — whatever that means. In the interim, Rags filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission contending she is being discriminated against because she is a woman.

It's hard to disagree with her logic. The other suggestions from last month included bumping Transportation Services director Susan Goebel to $84,300, a roughly $8,200 raise, and reducing the pay for two former directors whose job descriptions now carry less responsibility: budget manager George Zoettlein and economic development manager Matt McHugh, both of whom earn more than $97,700.

Commissioners balked, mostly because they couldn't stomach $13,000 pay cuts for McHugh and Zoettlein. Therein lies the crux of Rags' case. Instead of investigating ways to reward Rags and Goebel, individual commissioners defended the status quo for Zoettlein and McHugh. In particular, McHugh picked up endorsements from the private sector and Commissioner David Russell floated an idea of tying McHugh's compensation to job creation — essentially being paid a commission for a job he's already performing. Russell, to his credit, also recognized the value of promoting Rags and Goebel from within the organization, but his sentiment did not generate support to boost their salaries.

Hernando County government continues a far-reaching reorganization of its personnel to cut costs and to increase accountability. Toward that end, commissioners must consider their own accountability beyond the bottom line. Authorizing a work environment that puts more responsibility on women while greater compensation is reserved for men is discriminatory. The all-male commission needs to be more cognizant of how it treats county employees — all of them.

Hernando's gender bias complaint didn't have to happen 01/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 8:06pm]
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