Pioneer county officials rolled in dough
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
Judge William Conley is shown here in his chambers in the Madera County Courthouse circa 1915. At the time, Conley’s $4,000 salary was the second highest in the county. Only Sheriff Lewis earned more than him, but the lawman had to dip into his $5,000 salary to pay his deputies.
Most of the time Madera County has been proud of its public servants. Right from the beginning, those who kept the local government running were recognized for their abundant contributions by a grateful constituency.
This is not to say, however, that from time to time an eyebrow or two weren’t raised at the hefty salaries accorded to our founding fathers as they went about their tasks. On the contrary; quite frequently Maderans stopped to count the cost of keeping the courthouse doors open.
One such moment of reflection came in 1916, when the Madera Mercury ran a front-page expose on the individual salaries of those who held a place at the public trough. What follows is that public accounting.
“A great many people think it is no trick to run a small county and that the county affairs can be administered with very little expense. But when one stops to consider the number of departments even in a small county and pauses to think that each department, in conforming to the law, must observe many minute details, the wonder is that the expense is not greater than it really is.”
“The payroll of Madera County runs into money fast, but of course it cannot compare to the amounts doled out by the treasurers of some of the large counties of this state. A brief mention of the salaries of some of the local county officers makes interesting reading.”
“First on the list is the stipend given to Superior Court Judge William M. Conley each month. Judge Conley is the noblest Roman of the all, at least when speaking of county salaries. He draws down $4,000 dollars per annum, which is considered enough to pay the grocer and the butcher and any other tradesmen who happen to loiter around Mrs. Conley’s back step.”
“Sheriff Lewis’ wages come up next for review. He draws a cool $5,000 dollars every year, but his money does not all go to the popular sheriff, by any means.”
“Out of his own pocket, this officer must pay for the hire of two deputies, consequently, the said five thousand is considerably shrunk by the time Christmas comes around with its Santa Claus and presents for the children.”
“To County Assessor F. E. Briscoe, the county drops a lump of $2,500 dollars per annum in monthly sums. The county assessor manages to live all right on this amount, and never has to go hungry to bed.”
“Stanley Murray, the stalwart district attorney, gathers in two thousand ‘washers’ every twelve months. Mr. Murray isn’t a spendthrift and puts his money to good account, rumor says.”
“County Recorder, W. A. Smith, receives $2,100 dollars each year for his labors, while Auditor A.S. Honeycutt draws $2,000 dollars. Both of these officials are on the job every minute.”
“Next on the list, we find W. R. Curtin, the efficient County Clerk. For performing the various duties and sundry labors connected with his office, Mr. Curtin is paid two thousand dollars per annum. Not at all bad, eh?”
“And yet if there is anyone who thinks that Bill Curtin does not earn his salary, all that is necessary is to walk into his office at this particular time of the year, when he has the responsibility of getting out the election supplies and taking care of the registration of voters, together with his other numerous duties.”
“There are few county clerks in the state who have made a more careful study of the legal technicalities connected with the duties of a public office than Mr. Curtin has, and there are few points of the law that are involved in his official duties that he hasn’t at his beck and call when they are needed. Neatness and accuracy, courteous treatment and accommodating ways are a few of his characteristics.”
“Tax Collector, H. G. Macon, County Superintendent of Schools, Craig Cunningham, County Treasurer, W.C. Ring, Coroner R. C. Jay, County Surveyor Stafford, and the Supervisors complete the list of public servants who are reimbursed by the county for their efforts. Mr. Macon gets $1,800 dollars per year; the County Superintendent of Schools is paid the same, while Treasurer Ring receives $1,620 dollars for his services. Coroner Jay receives no fixed salary, his remuneration consisting of fees. Surveyor Stafford earns ten dollars per day for the time that he works, while the Supervisors draw $150 dollars per month.”
Thus did the local newspaper lay out the salaries of the county’s elected officials for all to see. The regular payroll was a whopping $33,820 dollars in the year of 1916. Obviously government services didn’t come cheaply, but most everyone agreed they were worth it.