In his 44th year as agriculture commissioner, Gus Douglass decided against seeking a 12th term this year. His should have been a graceful exit from the public eye.
But Douglass decided in August to pass out $206,349 in pay raises to 71 employees, including raises of $5,000 or more to 13 administrators and top officials.
Some of them are will-and-pleasure employees who could be gone with the new regime at Agriculture.
The list included raises of $5,800 to Assistant Commissioner Steve Miller and $2,800 to Deputy Commissioner Bob Tabb. Both ran as candidates for the office in the Democratic primary, losing to state Sen. Walt Helmick, who won in November.
The raises come as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has called for many state agencies to cut their budgets by 7.5 percent to help pay for the state's burgeoning Medi-caid costs.
While the agriculture commissioner is exempt from gubernatorial decrees on money matters, a last-minute spending spree shows a lack of concern about the state's monetary problems.
Furthermore, the last-minute generosity undercuts Helmick's intent, as he told Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald in Beckley, "to make sure the Department of Agriculture gets adequate funding to perform the duties as mandated by code."
But worst of all, the raises show a disturbing disconnect between the commissioner and the public.
This isn't Douglass' money. It's the public's money.
"Moves like this only increase the public's resentment of government, particularly when workers in the public sector rarely see such sizable increases in their pay," said the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington.
They are simply unheard-of in the private sector.
State officeholders are given wide discretion when it comes to personnel and budgetary matters. In granting last-minute, pension-boosting raises, Douglass abused his discretion.
Hardly a grace note to Douglass' long and comfortable career at the public trough.