The Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission’s resolution to grant a $32,010 annual base salary increase to Hancock County Port and Harbor Chief Executive Officer Bill Cork.
Prior to a vote, the board entered executive session to discuss “ employment or job performance related to the person in this specific position.”
Board President Scotty Adam was the lone “no” vote to entering executive session.
After executive session, the board discussed the motion to approve Cork’s compensation.
Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission Board President Robert Kane spoke to the board.
Kane said the commission unanimously approved the increased compensation, which will bring Cork’s annual salary to $204,000.
“We generate our own income, we don’t get any funds from the state nor from the county,” Kane said. “He has done a fantastic job. We had a profit of $5 million last year, roughly give or take and we have $17 million in our savings account, which we used to buy lands.”
Kane said the funds are also used to match grant funds.
Supervisor Kodie Koenenn said that due to his position as a new supervisor, he did “a little research.”
“I know in 2017 and 2018, there were two previous raises that were given, both roughly around $15,000,” he said. He said he also compared the proposed salary increase to similar public employees who receive PERS (Public Employees’ Retirement of Mississippi) statewide.
“Our port and harbor is already equal to our state MDA (Mississippi Development Authority), which is about the same or a little less than, $180,000 with PERS,” he said. “Harrison is $150,000 with PERS, Port of Gulfport is $160,000 with PERS, Pearl River is $110,000 with PERS, the only ones with $200,000 are Gulf Coast Business Council, Jackson County, and ADP in Hattiesburg, but none of them have PERS.”
Gulf Coast Business Council, Jackson County, and ADP in Hattiesburg are in the private sector, Koenenn said.
PERS and employee benefits make up about a 25 percent supplement of a salary.
Kane said that the executive director is there to “reproduce our income.”
“And so we have to have a very professional person who runs this,” he said.
Kane said that he respects the other positions (port directors and economic development directors) cited by Koenenn but said that “they do not produce income and have economic development.”
“But I do appreciate your research and concern,” Kane said.
Koenenn said that it’s also “about timing.”
“Being at $172,000 is already the highest paid employee in Hancock County’s history,” he said. “Going to that $200,000 puts us in unchartered and unprecedented (territory) going forward. I just don’t know what kind of precedent that sets. Which brings me to timing. When most governments are freezing spending right now and with record unemployment since the Great Depression, I would take it that some people would find it irresponsible or reckless for the board to raise it above the $200,000 right now.”
Koenenn also addressed the comment “it’s not our money,” which he said he also researched.
“In consistence with state code title 59, the supervisors are directly responsible for hiring the director and the salary. More importantly the supervisors are responsible by law for the budget, leasing, and contracts because they are a public entity that we are supposed to manage,” Koenenn said.
Kane said “I understand and appreciated that and knew that as well.”
“More so, any revenue regardless in the manner in which it’s originated, is taxpayer money,” Koenenn said. “It may not be ad valorem tax, but as a supervisor we are charged with and have a responsibility to protect it that way.”
Read State Code Title 59 in its entirety at https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2013/title-59/.
Kane said that “we fully realize that and we never have said that we were not basically a taxpayer’s agency, we are.”
“It’s not really a burden to the taxpayers if we compensate somebody,” Kane said. “It would be a burden to the taxpayers if we no longer made that profit.”
Kane said that he understood Koenenn’s concerns and agreed with the state code.
“We are a taxpayer’s agency and we are under the board of supervisors,” Kane said. “And there is no one here that question that. And that’s why I’m here asking you for this.”
Koenenn also said he looked at some of Cork’s responsibilities. He said that the airport is already privatized.
“I know we have a conversation coming up real soon about the rail, if that were to be privatized as well,” he said. “Without some of the largest responsibilities of our port and harbor, what’s left?”
Kane said that privatizing is right now “just out there.”
“It may not ever happen,” he said. “It’s not going to happen soon if it does happen. It may not happen at all. It’s just something that we are exploring to see what we can do because we’re looking at economic conditions at the port. We’re going to have to come in at some point and do a lot of additional rail and so forth and so on. A lot of expense.
Kane said that what the Port and Harbor is trying to do is “safeguard our interests so we don’t have a financial burden of putting in a lot of rail and so forth. That’s where we are now. All these things are just ideas right now.”
Koenenn said that a base salary of $204,000 with the percentage of PERS and benefits — is upwards of about $260,000 or $270,000
“If the responsibilities are removed, you don’t have that anymore,” he said. “Putting dollar for responsibility.”
Kane said that he would think that with an agency the size of Port and Harbor, “we would still have a lot of responsibilities.”
The board voted the base salary increase four to one. Theresa Ryan, Greg Shaw, Adam, and Bo Ladner voted “yes.” Koenenn voted “no.”
After the vote, Cork thanked the board and told them he recently marked his four-year anniversary with the port and harbor.
“It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience,” he said. “It’s very clear, Kodie, that you and I are going to have to help you understand how incredibly challenging this role is. And I look forward to that. You have a bright political future and I have a lot of respect for you. And so I just want to understand that it’s going to be my task to help you fully understand what we do out there. We are on the move and major strategic maneuvers. And that doesn’t come unless you have people and talent. And it’s not just me, it’s my entire team. We’ve been able to really pull together some amazing, amazing colleagues to take on some of these challenges of the county. I want to earn your vote next year and I promise I’m going to commit to that in a positive and proactive manner.”
The board also approved (4-1) a budget amendment for the HCPHC FY 2020 budget, which includes the prorated amount for Cork’s salary compensation.
In other action:
The board approved a proclamation declaring Aug. 26, 2020, “100 Years of Women Winning the Right to Vote.”
The board also reopened the county’s bathroom facilities on Washington Street and in Cedar Point. The pavilions remained closed at this time.
The board scheduled a special meeting for May 26 at 5 p.m.
The board also scheduled a meeting for May 27 at 4:30 p.m. with the Port and Harbor Commission to discuss “rail partnership strategy.”
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for June 1 at 9 a.m.
Meetings can viewed via livestream on the county’s website at www.hancockcounty.ms.gov.