The four justices of the peace in Johnson County have filed salary grievances, alleging that commissioners have repeatedly ignored their requests for raises over the years.Ronny McBroom, Pat Jacobs, Jeff Monk and Johnny Bekkelund recently hand-delivered their grievance letters to County Judge Roger Harmon’s office, saying they are seeking raises of $11,000 to $12,000 per year.A special county committee is scheduled to hear their grievances at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Johnson County Courthouse in Cleburne.Monk, the Precinct 2 JP — who had previously filed a salary grievance in 2008 — said he and his colleagues had no choice because commissioners ignored their requests.“No one likes to bring up the negatives, but I feel like the grievance process is the last resort we have to address a very large disparity in salaries in comparison to the commissioners, who make $38,000 more than we do,” Monk said.In their letters, the justices state that previous salary surveys showed that their pay has been as low as 32 percent below the average salaries in counties similar in size to Johnson County, which has 156,000 residents. Monk, Jacobs and Bekkelund earn $53,306. McBroom’s salary is approximately $5,000 higher because he also works as a magistrate.Harmon said he could not comment on the grievances since he is chairman of the committee that will hear the complaints, but he added that he wasn’t surprised to see the letters from the justices.“They came to us early in the budget process and asked for a salary increase,” he said.Harmon said county commissioners recently hired the firm Segal Waters Consulting to do a $95,000 comprehensive study on salaries and job descriptions for all county employees, including elected officials.“You have to look at every side of the fence,” Harmon said. “We always try to be fair.”Harmon said there are nine committee members — six elected officials and three Johnson County residents who were chosen at random from the grand jury pool. If the committee votes unanimously in favor of the salary increase requests, county commissioners must approve them.If the vote isn’t unanimous, commissioners could still consider the grievances, he said.The four justices contend that they are among the lowest-paid elected officials in the state.McBroom said that he looked at the Texas Association of Counties salary survey when compiling his information.Besides the low pay, the workload for the justices of the peace is increasing because cases once handled in higher courts can now go to JP courts. For instance, in 2007 the Legislature raised the amount of money that can be collected in a small-claims case from $5,000 to $10,000.The justices also handle other types of cases, from evictions to truancy.“We were told at the time that we knew what the job paid when you took office,” McBroom said.Johnson County Commissioner Jerry Stringer, who represents the Burleson area, said the salary survey presented by the justices of the peace is voluntary and only looks at elected officials.“I don’t doubt that they are underpaid. I don’t want to step out and make any decisions until we get the salary study,” Stringer said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz