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Dan Hust | Democrat

AS LEGISLATOR DAVID Sager (right) angrily takes issue with Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton (in the background), legislators Elwin Wood and Kathy LaBuda grimly listen.

Legislative aide creates division

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — March 25, 2008 — The prior week’s angry debate over Legislative Aide Alexis Eggleton’s salary increase turned into a full-blown showdown between Republicans and Democrats on Thursday.
As legislators prepared to vote on a resolution giving raises to Eggleton and five other county employees, Republican Legislator David Sager read a written statement accusing Eggleton of spying on him and calling for her termination.
The week before, he had conveyed his disgust with a $5,000 raise being given to Eggleton, which, coupled with another $5,000 increase already made to her salary for 2008 and a $1,000 stipend for related college classes, would bump up her annual earnings to just over $46,000 – about a 30 percent increase over 2007.
But at Thursday’s full Legislature meeting, Sager didn’t just vote against her raise – he called for her immediate firing.
Displaying photographic evidence, Sager said Eggleton mistakenly sent him a text message on Tuesday that was intended for County Manager David Fanslau, whose contract was amended on Thursday (with Sager dissenting).
According to Sager and two images of a text message displayed on a cell phone, the message said, “FYI: Sager was down the hall for an hour and when he came back he had me pull the reso[lution] for Thursday re: your contract and said it was not what JR [Democratic Legislative Chair Jonathan Rouis] said it was.”
“At what point is it permissible for the legislative aide to be keeping tabs on my comings and goings throughout the building in my role as an elected county official and her role as legislative aide?” asked a furious Sager. “At what point is it permissible for her to report my actions and inquiries (so long as they were within the parameters of my elected office) to the county manager or any other official?”
Sager added that he considers this action to be part of “a larger pattern of partisanship, unethical behavior and abuse of power” and called for Eggleton’s county computer to be searched.
He also called for her termination, stating a resulting lack of trust in her ability to coordinate and facilitate a bipartisan Legislature.
“It is my contention that she is not a legislative aide serving equally at the will of the nine legislators,” he concluded. “Based upon her now-documented behavior, she is in reality a political operative, working strictly for the [Democratic] legislative majority.”
Eggleton remains in the county’s employ, and the resolution which included her raise passed 5-3 along party lines, with Sager, Leni Binder and Jodi Goodman dissenting (the fourth Republican, Alan Sorensen, was not present due to a death in the family).
But at least three Democrats favored investigating the matter further.
“We’ll take a look at it,” Rouis promised, echoing Vice Chair Ron Hiatt’s sentiment.
“I know exactly how you must feel viewing this for the very first time,” Legislator Frank Armstrong said to Sager, acknowledging the message was “inappropriate.”
However, like Rouis (who felt Sager deliberately sought to sabotage Eggleton), Armstrong made clear he thought the issue was needlessly complicated by Sager’s very public condemnation of the aide.
Saying he does not participate in partisan politics, Armstrong said he was “shocked” by Sager’s actions, feeling they only fueled further acrimony on a Legislature with five Democrats and four Republicans.
“You should be more upset with the [text message] than the way it was delivered,” replied Sager.
Rouis, however, pointed out that Eggleton has created and distributed press releases for both parties – part of her duties that also include answering phones, dealing with the media and coordinating certain meetings.
Hiatt, too, accused Republicans of creating more trouble than necessary.
“I hear political posturing even though they say it isn’t,” he said. “…This is just an opportunity to raise a political ruckus.”
And the argument didn’t stop at Sager’s accusation of espionage – Binder and Goodman entered the fray with concerns over the process of handing out raises.
“We’ve got to stop this madness,” remarked Goodman, referring to county leaders’ reputation for singling out upper-level management/confidential employees for unsubstantiated large pay increases. “We have to put a process in place that treats everyone equally.”
Binder recalled an attempt to form a committee to look at salaries, lamenting that the lack of such a committee painfully thrust Eggleton’s situation into the public eye.
“I’m sorry for the people who get hurt in the process, but there’s a principle here,” she explained.
Binder offered to approve the raise resolution if Eggleton’s position were not included, but Democrats rejected that idea.
In fact, Hiatt proudly asserted his record of approving any county employee raise put before him – though he preferred the term “adjustments” rather than raises.
He also felt Eggleton’s duties and performance warranted a salary increase.
Rouis extended the discussion beyond just one employee, saying, “There is no question our county workforce does not receive adequate compensation for the work we ask them to do.”
But, as Sager had warned, Eggleton’s increase has put the Legislature in a tender spot with other county employees and Teamsters Local 445, the union that represents more than 600 of them – about half the entire county workforce.
Following two county employee speakers who decried the attention paid to upper-level employees’ earnings at the expense of the rank-and-file, union representative Lou Setren explained that he doesn’t begrudge fair compensation but questions large raises given to a select few.
The county is currently in negotiations with the Teamsters to replace a contract that expired in December, and, as Setren put it, salaries “have lagged far behind the rate of inflation in the last 10 years.”
So his message was clear to legislators: referring to the raise granted Eggleton, union members “want the same type of consideration,” said Setren.

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