Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, May 22, 2000

Interim sheriff's salary questioned

By John Holler

What was supposed to be a happy occasion with Sheriff Don Hozempa passing the torch of department leadership at the May 16 meeting of the Wright County Board, instead became a bit contentious, as Hozempa and Commissioner Pat Sawatzke had a difference of opinion concerning the salary new Sheriff Gary Miller will be paid.

After the board unanimously approved Miller's appointment in front of a packed audience of sheriff's department co-workers, the matter of Miller's salary was brought to a vote. The salary was set at $79,524, a figure Sawatzke voted against, claiming it was too high.

"Last year, Sheriff Hozempa made $74,597 in salary," Sawatzke said. "That was in his 12th year as the sheriff. Capt. Miller is new to the position, but his salary is $5,000 more than what Sheriff Hozempa made last year. I have nothing against Capt. Miller and believe he will do a good job, but I think that figure is too high."

Hozempa, who was visibly upset by Sawatzke's comments during the meeting, said the timing was inappropriate during Miller's assignment to the position, and added later that he feels the facts were wrong concerning the merits of Miller's salary.

"Gary Miller has worked in this department for 25 years," Hozempa said. "It's not like he's new to the department or to the county. It's also incorrect to use my 1999 salary as a guide. Last year I disputed my salary and gave the board comparisons to the salaries paid sheriffs of comparably sized counties. As a result, it changed. My salary is $85,000 and Gary agreed to take $5,000 less than the salary for the sheriff for this year."

When asked if he thought the timing of his remarks was inappropriate, Sawatzke said he had no choice, because the matter was being brought before the board for a final vote.

"When was I supposed to say something?" Sawatzke asked. "The board was being asked to approve a salary at that time and I wanted it in the record that I was against it. You have a sheriff who, in his 12th year on the job, is paid a salary and then give someone new to the position $5,000 more than what he made last year. Where is the justice in that?"

The salary was approved by a 4-1 vote. Miller's salary will be pro-rated from the time he takes over the duties of sheriff May 27 until the end of the year.

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