Panel examines dollar value of Cleburne County administrator's contract
by Laura Camper
HEFLIN – Starting Oct. 1, Cleburne County Administrator Steve Swafford will be paid $141,582 per year until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2018, well above what an annual survey found county administrators make in Alabama counties of Cleburne’s size.

County Commissioner Emmett Owen has called Swafford’s contract a burden that former commissioners put on the residents of the county.

But Mary Pons, counsel for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said salaries paid to county administrators in Alabama’s 67 counties have little to do with the population of the county. The salary of a county administrator can be affected by how long he or she has worked for the county, his or her background, the financial status of the county and what that particular county’s priorities are, she said.

“It really depends so much on factors far beyond the population of the county,” Pons said.

Both Owen and Commissioner Laura Cobb have complained about the contract’s length and expense over the last few months. They have also proposed a number of measures to limit Swafford’s authority including one the commission approved on April 15 that moved the finance department from the oversight of the county administrator and put it under direct control of the commission. At a May 20 meeting, the commissioners approved a proposal by Cobb to create a committee to evaluate Swafford’s contract.

On Monday the committee members examined the dollar value of the contract.

From this fiscal year through the contract’s end, a total of 6.25 fiscal years, Swafford’s salary and benefits will cost county residents a little more than $1.2 million.

Swafford said the contract, which names him the county administrator and Emergency Management Agency director, was approved and signed on Feb. 19, 2010. It was an extension of a contract approved in 2008, he said.

“I had an offer back in 2010 for a greater rate of pay,” Swafford said.

But Cleburne County is his home, Swafford, 43, said. He’s made an investment of more than 20 years in the county and he wanted to be able to retire here, so he asked for the extension to take him to retirement age, he said.

“I’ve been questioning that as of late,” Swafford said.

Swafford started his career in Cleburne County in 1992 as the emergency management planner, working in budgeting and planning for the department. However, with a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in public administration, he was able to take on other responsibilities as required, he said.

Before long he was dealing with personnel, and in 1998 his contract identified him as director of the county EMA’s personnel and budget office. In 2002, he was named county executive officer and EMA director, his current position. He has continued his education and is close to completing a doctoral degree in public administration, Swafford said.

A voluntary survey done each year since 2004 by the Center for Municipal Government Services at Auburn University for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama collects salary information from the counties. The latest published survey covering fiscal year 2010-11 had 31 counties respond and the survey notes that not all the counties answered every question.

According to the survey, in fiscal year 2011, the lowest-paying counties with fewer than 30,000 residents authorized salaries of $25,500 to $70,000 for county administrators. The highest-paying counties in the same population range had salaries from $42,370 to $80,891.

For an EMA director the lowest-paying counties with fewer than 30,000 residents authorized salaries of $27,976 to $40,000 while the highest-paying paid from $37,086 to $115,200.

The survey doesn’t address salaries if the jobs are combined.

“It’s very hard to use any kind of data like that to determine whether a salary is in line,” Pons said.

Pons said she doesn’t know of any other counties that have combined the administrator position with the EMA director, though it’s common for EMA directors to have other responsibilities, she said. She knows of several counties where the EMA director also serves as the county engineer or the 911 director.

Swafford said during his tenure the county has won several awards including the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 Excellence in County Government Award from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.

“We in Cleburne County have had a pretty good run of successful government,” Swafford said.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
© 2013