Tarrant County approves 3 percent pay raises, but DA says he got a $15,000 cut

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
Elected-official salaries As part of Tarrant County’s 2014 budget, commissioners approved new maximum salaries for elected officials: • District attorney, $193,402 • County and probate judge, $157,999 • District judge, $157,999 • County judge, $153,634 • Sheriff, $153,634 • County commissioners, $143,634 • District clerk, $143,634 • County clerk, $143,634 • Tax assessor, $143,634 • Justice of the peace, $108,149 • Constable, $97,849 Source: Tarrant County

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Tarrant County commissioners Tuesday approved a 3 percent pay raise for county employees in 2014, but District Attorney Joe Shannon says he’s effectively getting a $15,000 pay cut.

Among the details in Tarrant County’s $512 million budget is a notice setting new maximum salaries for elected officials that shows the top pay for district attorney dropping from $239,279 to $193,402 a year.

That’s where it gets complicated and political.

County Judge Glen Whitley said “it all goes back to Tim Curry,” the longtime district attorney who “was the highest-paid DA in the state” when he died in 2009.

Shannon, 72, who was chief of the economic and computer crime unit of the DA’s office, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to fill the post. As an elected official, Shannon could no longer get the $37,000 he had been collecting from the state retirement system for about 14 years, the district attorney said.

At the time, county officials had considered lowering the DA’s salary to put it in line with other large counties, Whitley and Shannon agreed.

“I talked to them and said, ‘If you cut this, I wouldn’t even be getting a pay increase when I took on all this extra responsibility.’ They agreed with me and left it alone,” Shannon said.

About a year ago, a change in a state statute allowed Shannon to get about $33,000 in retirement benefits reinstated.

“The primary reason I went back on it was that I had gotten married, and my wife didn’t have any survivor’s benefit under the former retirement,” he said. “If I went to new retirement, she would have a survivor’s benefit if anything happened to me.

“I told them when it came time to set salary, if they wanted to, they could cut me back by the amount of my retirement.”

Whitley said commissioners took that into account when they set the new maximum district attorney’s salary at $193,402.

“We looked at his overall compensation, and we reduced it down. We now believe we have a DA salary that is in line with others around the state,” Whitley said. “He is actually getting a little increase over what he was making last year.”

But Shannon says that’s not the “whole story.”

The state passed a judicial pay raise effective Sept. 1, upping the portion of salaries that it pays counties for district judges and district attorneys from $125,000 to $140,000. But Shannon says the county isn’t passing that on to him.

“I got cut by the amount of my retirement and the amount that the state was going to pay me. In effect, when they say I’m making the same, that isn’t true. I’m $15,000 in the hole.

“I’m not starving to death. I can live with that. I just think it’s disingenuous to not tell the whole story,” he said.

But the tale doesn’t end there.

Former state District Judge Sharen Wilson, who announced last week that she was resigning her post to run for district attorney in 2014, issued a news release Tuesday supporting he decision “to slash” the DA’s salary.

She said commissioners cut the salary by nearly $46,000 “in light of the costly scandal faced by the incumbent DA.”

“Taxpayers want to see elected officials reining in government spending and running government in an efficient, accountable and transparent manner,” Wilson said in the news release. “This action will put $46,000 more of our scarce anti-crime resources into putting dangerous criminals in prison.”

The scandal she referred to was a $375,000 no-fault settlement paid by the county to a former assistant district attorney who accused Shannon of sexual harassment.

Shannon has denied her accusation.

In response to Wilson’s “attack,” Shannon said he earned the retirement money working for the state.

He also said his office has saved taxpayers over $400,000 in the last year through tight budgeting.

“I saved them more in one year than what was spent on that settlement. It’s not like it has a damn thing to do with that crap that they agreed to that I didn’t agree to,” he said.

“What she is saying is nothing but politics. She has been criticizing this office for 10 years since she was handily defeated for this office back in 1990,” said Shannon, who added that he expects to decide whether to run for re-election by the end of the month.

Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981 Twitter: @stevecamp

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