Fayette commissioners could get big pay raises

Tue, 03/06/2007 - 6:12pm
By: John Thompson

The part-time Fayette County Commission could soon be getting a nice salary increase — as much as nearly $6,000 for the chairman — thanks to a little-known or -remembered resolution that was passed by the board in 1993.

And the raises would come with no public notice, much less a public vote by the commission to increase their base pay.

That's because the resolution tied the commission’s salary to the base salary for superior court judges in the state. In February, the Georgia House passed HB 119, which would hike the salaries of superior court judges from $99,862 to $128,400, or a 28.5 percent jump.

Members of the Fayette House delegation, including Rep. Dan Lakly, Rep. Virgil Fludd, Rep. John Yates and Rep. Darryl Jordan supported the measure, while Rep. Robert Abdul-Salaam was excused from the vote. The bill is now in the hands of the Senate, before it would head to Governor Perdue’s desk for a final signature.

Currently, the county commissioners make $21,935 a year, while the chairman is paid $26,357 a year. If the judges' raise passes intact, the Fayette board would get individual raises of more than $4,700.

Executive Assistant Carol Chandler said commissioners can also attend optional training and earn an additional $1,200 per year after completing the training.

Chandler said commissioners Peter Pfeifer and Herb Frady have completed the training, while Commissioner Robert Horgan is nearly finished with his classes, she added.

Additionally, the commissioners, starting in 2003, also get the cost of living raise each year that is approved for state workers.

“Last year, that was 2 percent,” Chandler added.

But the origins of this year’s possible pay raise go all the way back to February 1993. At the Feb. 24 meeting 14 years ago, according to the minutes, the five commissioners, Chairman Steve Wallace, Vice Chairman Herb Frady, Bill Bonner, Rick Price and Linda Wells entered into a discussion over the compensation for the commissioners.

Wallace said the issue should be removed from the political realm and create a system that would adequately compensate the part-time commissioners. Commissioner Bonner suggested tying the salary to the superior court judge’s salary and threw out figures of 16.5 percent for commissioners and 21 percent for the chairman. At that time, the judge’s base salary was $71,566.

The issue passed by a 3-0-2 vote, with Frady and Wells voting present. The resolution was then sent to the General Assembly where it passed and the commissioners’ salary was set at $11,806 and $15,028 for the chairman.

Chandler said the last time the County Commission got a raise tied to the judges’ salary was 2001, and that was 3.5 percent.

But not all counties use the same salary structure as Fayette’s. In neighboring Coweta, which has a slightly larger population and has a five-member County Commission, the commission is paid far lower than Fayette’s.

Coweta County Public Information Officer Patricia Palmer said the commissioners’ salary there is not tied to the judges. Coweta pays a base salary of $12,500 for the regular commissioners and $14,500 for the chairperson. Coweta also uses the state cost of living increase and the $1,200 a year for the training certification.

In a salary study completed by the Department of Community Affairs in 2006, Fayette’s pay to its commissioners is high compared to other counties with similar populations.

“This was a voluntary survey and we take the county’s words on the information supplied to us, but we did get data from about 100 counties,” said DCA’s Patrick Vickers.

Fayette falls in the top population group in the survey. When compared to other counties that have part-time commissioners and chairman, Fayette’s pay grade surpasses many counties with higher populations.

Cherokee County with a population of 184,211 — nearly 80,000 more people than in Fayette — pays its chairman $26,010 and commissioners $17,870 a year. Bibb County, home to Macon and more than 150,000 residents, pays its part-time chairman $23,297 and its commissioners $12,331.

The judges’ pay increase is expected to be voted on by the Senate when the group reconvenes later this month, a vote that will likely be closely watched by Fayette’s five-member commission.

login to post comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Submitted by helpful lawyer on Fri, 03/09/2007 - 8:30am.

As the better informed members of our community know, our Fayette county commissioners receive compensation expressed as a percentage of superior court judges salaries. The purpose, there, is to provide them with raises without the ugly political skirmishes involved each time elected officials’ compensation is changed.

It would be simple for our Georgia legislature to keep our Fayette county commissioners and others like them from receiving an unintended windfall. They would only have to add the following paragraph to the new law providing for the judges’ increased compensation:

The compensation of all public officials of this state, other than judges, whose compensation is determined as a percentage of superior court judges compensation shall remain unchanged by these provisions, and the percentage determining their present and future compensation shall be reduced to that percentage which keeps their compensation at its current level immediately after the superior court judges’ increased compensation shall become effective.

It should be noted that many state court judges (like Fayette’s Fletcher Sams) receive compensation expressed as a percentage of a superior court judge’s pay, and they’d get a raise too.

Many superior court judges, including our Fayette judges, receive a salary supplement from the counties they serve. These supplements should be abolished by the new legislation. The practice of paying superior court judges supplements is a nasty one, as it makes the judges beholden to local officials and unable to decide cases involving local governments and officials.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.