Politics & Government

Extra hours or part of the job? Hilton Head mayor may be paid more for Hurricane Dorian

The Town of Hilton Head pays its rank-and-file employees overtime when they have to work long hours for emergencies, such as hurricanes. But town leaders are considering also paying their mayor extra for working during Hurricane Dorian, a finance committee agenda shows.

That discussion, slated for Tuesday afternoon’s finance and administrative committee meeting, will tackle “language for providing compensation ... for hours worked during storm response.”

But the discussion is about only one person: John McCann, who makes $25,000 a year, plus $50 per meeting, as Hilton Head’s top elected official.

During Hurricane Dorian, McCann and Town Manager Steve Riley spent the night with emergency management and fire rescue staff at the emergency operations center on the island. They received hourly briefings, and McCann did interviews with local and national media outlets during the storm.

Now, the committee will decide whether the mayor should get paid more for the hours he worked during the hurricane Sept. 4-6, which brought fairly minor damage to the island.

No other information was provided with the agenda item, which was posted publicly. Contacted Monday, McCann said he didn’t know “anything official” about the discussion.

He said he did not put the item on the agenda for the meeting, and couldn’t provide any information about how many extra hours he worked for the town during the storm or how much extra he might be paid.

How do elected officials get paid?

The mayor and Hilton Head Island town council members are paid salaries, according to the municipal code of ordinances.

For town council members, that’s $12,800 per year. For McCann, it’s $25,000.

In addition to their salaries, elected officials can be paid $50 for each council and committee meeting and other council-related business meetings they attend.

But even their salaries and attendance fees are capped.

According to town code, the mayor cannot be paid more than $32,500 per fiscal year. For town council members, that annual limit is $20,300.

Both of those caps allow for about 150 meetings at $50 per meeting.

McCann, who served on the town council for six years before being elected mayor in 2018, said he went over the allotted number of meetings in both 2016 and 2017, the years Hurricanes Matthew and Irma hit the island. He said he wasn’t paid for that extra work.

In 2016, when McCann was chair of the finance and administrative committee, he suggested increasing the number of paid meetings for town council members and the mayor to $50. At the time, officials were paid $40 per meeting for up to 100 meetings.

The council unanimously approved the changes.

In 2017, The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette newspapers reported on the Bluffton Police Department’s overtime bills during Hurricane Matthew, which could have cost taxpayers up to $337,000.

During the storm, nearly every Bluffton police officer was paid for 195 hours of overtime. Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputies worked an average of 40.5 overtime hours.

According to that report, “The exception to this was (Beaufort County Sheriff P.J.) Tanner, who was recorded as working 112 overtime hours, but was not paid for it because of his position as an elected official.”

What are the duties of a mayor during a storm?

Disaster response is not explicitly listed in the town code as a duty of the mayor, although many area mayors pride themselves on being visible and available for emergency meetings and decisions.

Shuttered windows block the light at the emergency operations center for the Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division as Hurricane Dorian brings wind and rain to Hilton Head Island. The center is located on the north end of the island. Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

Former Hilton Head Island Mayor David Bennett drew criticism in 2016 after he stayed in Orlando during the critical hours of Matthew, a Category 2 hurricane.

Where did this come from?

McCann said Monday he was not responsible for putting the discussion item on the agenda, although he reviews each meeting agenda before it’s made public.

Two calls to finance committee chairperson Tom Lennox, who traditionally drafts the agenda, were not immediately returned Monday.

The finance committee meets at Hilton Head Town Hall at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

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