Local News

Retiring Wake County Employee's Bonus Raising Eyebrows

Posted December 17, 2002

— Former Wake County Sheriff John Baker left office over two weeks ago, but as local governments deal with budget problems, one of his final decisions is raising questions for its timing. On the way out, Baker gave an $8,000 bonus to a retiring employee.

Eight days after he lost the election, then-Sheriff Baker wrote a memo, which calls for a 10-percent one-time pay-for-performance increase for his retiring longtime aide Tricia Sanford. Baker defends the bonus by writing, "the faith and trust I, as Sheriff, have in her have been invaluable." He refers to Sanford's stressful "above and beyond" year.

After a 3-percent pay raise in October, Tricia Sanford made $80,169 a year. Her goodbye bonus check tacked on another $8,000.

"Clearly, legally -- he had the opportunity to do that within the general policy guidelines in Wake County government," said Deputy County Manager Joe Durham.

Durham said although Baker and Sanford were on the way out, the sheriff can still spend as he pleases.

"The sheriff has a tremendous amount of latitude and discretion in how he administers the budget," he said.

Out of 3,200 Wake County employees, 18 others received the one-time bonus, but they averaged just more than 1 percent, which is less than Sanford's 10 percent.

County commissioner Herb Council said at a time when the sheriff's office and other departments are struggling for dollars, lame-duck bonuses do not look good to taxpayers.

"I do think that we as a county need to revisit that and I pan to spend some time with the county staff and look at that concern," he said. "When things like that happen, that makes people, I believe, question government."

WRAL tried to get comment from both Baker and Sanford about the bonus, but neither returned our phone calls.

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