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County raises not performance-based

Most people are accustomed to pay raises based on merit - or at least on adequate job performance.

Multnomah County commissioners haven't always been top performers in the past two years, as they allowed their own internal squabbles to interfere with their ability to make good public policy choices even as the county endured budget problems.

Yet, an independent salary commission is awarding substantial increases to the four county commissioners and county chair. The commissioners' pay will jump from $71,850 a year to $80,000, while the county chair's salary will increase from $115,000 to $123,000. (For the record, Chairwoman Diane Linn has accepted a salary of only $91,000 a year.)

These raises may appear out of line with the public's perception of the county board. But the five members of the independent salary commission, who were given autonomy in this matter courtesy of a voter-approved 2004 charter change, weren't considering performance or dedication to the job. The salary increases are based on compensation comparisons with counties of similar size regionally and nationally. And the chair's salary takes into account the pay ranges for county department heads that are supervised by the chairperson.

When viewed in that light, the raises make more sense. The commissioners now are in the middle of the pack when compared with other counties. Unfortunately, higher pay doesn't guarantee better job performance. But suppressing pay also won't attract the best and brightest candidates.

And while voters voluntarily gave up control over commissioners' salaries, they still have the ultimate ability to judge a commissioner's performance and to hire and fire commissioners every four years on election night.