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County aims to retain Palmer

Franklin County could be looking for a new engineer if David Palmer accepts an offer from Lawrence County.

At Tuesday’s county commission meeting, commissioners discussed Palmer’s contract; formally, Palmer is currently in a five-year contract with the county through September 2018. Prompting the discussion was an offer Palmer recently received for the county engineer position in neighboring Lawrence County.

Palmer said, as a close personal and professional friend with Lawrence County engineer Ben Duncan, he was contacted by Duncan when the latter decided to make a move into the private sector, to see if he would be interested in applying for the county job. With the county being adjacent to Franklin, Palmer decided to explore the opportunity.

“I had no idea if it would amount to anything or if they would have any interest in me,” he said. They did. They offered him the job. “I’m really grateful to them for offering me a job and giving me a good opportunity.”

But Palmer hasn’t made any decision yet, and part his decision-making process hung on action by the Franklin County Commission.

It was a discussion that centered on Palmer’s salary. The pay increase represented in Lawrence County’s offer works out to a 26 percent increase, and the offer also includes a 2 percent increase per year.

Probate Judge Barry Moore said he can certainly understand that such an offer is attractive to Palmer but expressed his hesitancy in trying to make a counter-offer that would make it worth it for Palmer to remain in the county. “We’re on a tight budget, just like anyone else,” Moore said. “In my opinion, we can’t do anything like that.”

Each county commissioner took the time to outline his own feelings on whether Franklin County can afford to pay Palmer what Lawrence County is offering – or whether they can afford to lose him.

Commissioner Chris Wallace explained the discussion as a business decision. “I can think of 20 different reasons we need to keep David,” Wallace said. “I could just go on and on. And as a business decision, the amount of money we would give him in a raise would be quadrupled in return.”

Commissioner Jason Miller praised Palmer but said he couldn’t in good conscience commit to a raise for Palmer while telling constituents the county can’t afford this project or that project. “I just can’t look people in the eye every day and tell them ‘we can’t do this’ or ‘we can’t do that’ and agree to this kind of a raise,” he said. “I just don’t see where we can do this and tell the people on a daily basis that we don’t have money.”

Commissioner David Hester said he also could not fathom that kind of a raise. “My first response was ‘no way,’” Hester said. But after his initial reaction, Hester said he talked with people across the county to try in make an informed decision on whether Palmer’s work and results warranted the increase – information which ultimately changed his opinion. “I’m all for the raise, if there is any way we can keep David Palmer in our county a few more years,” Hester said.

Commissioner Rayburn Massey said he respected the diligence his fellow commissioners had put into forming their own decisions on whether the county could or should try to match Palmer’s offer from Lawrence County. For his part, Massey praised the experience and network Palmer brings to the office and said he is in favor of the salary increase.

The commission considered a proposal, motion by Massey, that Palmer be offered a salary increase at the beginning of FY2018 (October 2017) to $163,200; at the beginning of FY2019 (October 2018) to $166,464; and FY2020 (October 2019) to $169,793, through December 2020, representing a four-year contract beginning January 2017. The last three years would put Palmer’s salary in line with the offer from Lawrence County. The vote was 3-1, with Miller voting against.

Palmer said he plans to make a decision by the end of the week. “I don’t want this thing to drag out,” he said.

Lawrence, Palmer said, is a lot like Franklin in terms of population and geography. “They’re in a place Franklin County has been in in the past,” said Palmer. With Duncan’s move into the private sector, Palmer said there are projects left unfinished that would represent an exciting challenge for Palmer. He said he is drawn to the opportunity to implement systems and strategies that have been successful in Franklin County. “There’s a lot of potential for growth. It’s sort of exciting to think about being able to do somewhere else what you have done for so many years where you are,” Palmer said. “I’m at the point in my career, 26 years here in Franklin County – for me and my family, I have to explore those types of opportunities.”

Palmer said he has interviewed for several other positions over the years “as most people do.” “I’ve had some opportunities to leave. The biggest one was eight or nine years ago, a chance to go to Calhoun County,” Palmer said. “In the end, we didn’t want to leave Russellville and Franklin County. We love the area. It’s home to us … It’s very difficult to pick up and move the whole family … This job is so close in proximity to Russellville, it was something I felt like I needed to explore.”

On one point Palmer wanted to be absolutely clear: considering taking the Lawrence County job has nothing to do with any problems with Franklin County or the county commission.

“I have a tremendous amount respect for these guys and what they do. We’ve had a great working relationship,” Palmer said.