Darts and laurels

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 5, 2007

Laurels to Rowan County Commissioners for signing Bill Cowan on as county manager for the long haul and for the open way they negotiated his contract. Cowan has proved himself an able administrator since arriving in September 2005. After the tumult of predecessor Tim Russell’s firing, Cowan brought a quiet calm into the county’s offices and kept things moving forward. Putting someone like this on ice — someone who’s already performed the duties of the office well — while the board searched for someone who might be better would have been risky, not to mention insulting. The way the contract came together suggests not only that the board is operating openly but also that members were working together for a common cause — good government.

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Dart, however, to the way Rowan has steadily raised its county manager’s pay through the years. The $151,500 Cowan’s being paid is the same basic salary commissioners OK’d last January when they dropped “interim” from his title. Commissioner Jim Sides voted against the contract Thursday because of the salary level, but the dollar figure did not appear to be up for negotiation. Changes in benefits and travel muddy the situation, though, and Cowan could wind up costing the county $20,000 more in 2007 than in the past year. Still, on the surface it appears commissioners are continuing his pay at the same level as last year — a wise move, considering how it stacks up with others in the state. That $151,500 puts Rowan eighth in the state in county manager’s salary, judging from January 2006 figures compiled by the UNC School of Government. The big boys — Mecklenburg, Wake and Forsyth — paid salaries in the $180,000-$188,000 range a year ago. Others who paid more than Rowan were Guilford, Buncombe, Catawba and Cumberland, which all have bigger populations. As for Rowan’s comparably sized neighbors, base salaries listed for them were $143,260 in Cabarrus, $112,000 in Davidson and $138,804 in Iredell. Again, travel, benefits and other perks vary. Don’t begrudge Cowan, though. He came in to save the day, replacing a county manager whose base pay in 2005 was $142,597, with a $6,800 travel allowance. The precedent was set long before Cowan came to Rowan.

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Laurels to another step forward for women, the rise of Nancy Pelosi of California to speaker of the U.S. House. She has reached a level of power that until now no woman has held. Whether you’re a Republican or one of Pelosi’s fellow Democrats, you should be able to recognize this as progress. Of course, while being speaker gives Pelosi newfound prestige, it also makes her more of a target for criticism and ridicule. That’s part of the political territory and one she knows full well. Women who aspire to break ceilings — be they glass or, as Pelosi said, marble — have to be prepared to take what comes on the other side, good and bad. The right to fail and the right to succeed — the right to even try — those are among the rights for which women have sought equality since well before the days of Susan B. Anthony. Equal rights for women may seem like a non-issue to a lot of people, but the fact that we’re still marking “firsts” proves there’s distance yet to go.