January 15, 2014 - It's easy to spend money when it's not yours.
Unfortunately, it's an all-too-common occurrence for elected and appointed officials to hand out lavish raises to employees, regardless of whether they're merited.
Just last week, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District Board of Trustees voted to increase Executive Director Brian Hoelscher's salary by $4,652. The 2.5-percent raise brings Hoelscher's salary to $189,625. While Hoelscher has been employed by the district since 1995, he has served as executive director only since July.
That's a pretty nice raise for someone who hasn't even served in his position for a full year. But Board of Trustees Chairman James Buford defended Hoelscher's raise and a $3,750 hike for Secretary-Treasurer Brenda Schaefer. Schaefer's salary is now $153,750.
"I and the board are well aware that there are some who object to these raises, if for no other reason than they are raises for public employees who are already earning salaries well into the six figures," he said. "In responding to these individuals, I would note that their salaries are in line with the salaries of senior executives at other public organizations or organizations with public missions."
However, longtime MSD critic Tom Sullivan told the board he didn't believe either raise was justified.
Quite frankly, it doesn't make one iota of difference whether you agree or disagree with the board's actions because the trustees are not accountable to the public. They don't have to be because they are accountable only to the people who appoint them — County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
Perhaps Lincoln County Circuit Judge Dan Dildine said it best in his 2010 ruling that MSD's monthly stormwater charge was invalid and violated state law: "MSD is not regulated or governed by any body of publicly elected officials. If taxpayers in the district disapprove of MSD's decision to impose an increased stormwater charge upon them, there is no mechanism by which the taxpayers can vote to remove MSD's management."
By the way, the Missouri Supreme Court in November agreed with lower courts that the MSD's monthly stormwater charge was unconstitutional, ending a five-year legal battle.
The cost of the MSD's unsuccessful defense of the lawsuit totals more than $6.3 million.
Like we said, it's easy to spend money when it's not yours.