Recently, I exercised the right of every citizen to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act. I requested a record of the most recent activity logs completed by members of the Chemung County Legislature. The staff was very accommodating, and I received the information in a timely manner. As I sat in a conference room in the Hazlitt Building in Elmira and inspected more than one hundred pages of documentation, I came to some startling conclusions.
I learned that the legislators self-report the number of hours spent in the performance of their duties including attending meetings, reading documents, answering emails, talking to constituents, and yes, for one legislator, even driving around in the district. I have no problem in assuming that the legislators faithfully, fully, and accurately reported their hours.
It is worth noting that legislators are only required to submit a record of activity log for the first 3 months in which they are in office. Legislators who are already in the New York State Retirement system or who choose not to participate are not required to complete such logs at all. One would assume that those first 3 months would be especially busy as they begin to assume their duties.
I examined all of the documentation on 12 of the 15 legislators. Since the Chairman of the Legislature has additional duties and receives approximately twice the compensations as the others, I did not include those numbers in my calculations. Three other legislators did not submit any logs.
Here are the facts: The 11 legislators self-reported an average of 10.5 hours of work-related activity per week for their first three months in office. The current annual salary for a legislator is $15,790 (not including health and retirement benefits). Assuming that the legislators have continued to work the same number of hours as initially reported, they each would be earning a tidy $28.91 per hour.
Of course, not all legislators reported working the same number of hours. At the high end of hours reported, one legislator’s work equated to a rate of $14.25 per hour. Conversely, another legislator’s efforts equated to a mind-boggling rate of $93.43 per hour.
Even if the average wage of $28.91 were projected to a 40-hour work week, each legislator would receive $1,156 per week. By contrast, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly wage for a worker in Chemung County in the 2nd quarter of 2017 was a mere $872. Of those wage earners, many undoubtedly lack health insurance or retirement benefits.
A couple of months ago, I wrote in a Your Turn piece for the Star-Gazette that our Chemung County legislators were wrong to vote themselves a salary increase given today’s numerous fiscal challenges. After reviewing the results of my Freedom of Information request, I urge the taxpayers of Chemung County to draw their own conclusions.